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Illegal burn results in Bemidji neighbor’s garage catching fire

By John Hageman / Bemidji Pioneer

EMIDJI — An illegal burning of one homeowner’s allergy irritants covering his lawn resulted in his neighbor’s garage catching fire Sunday evening.

Bemidji firefighters were called to the 7700 block of Hunter Drive Northeast, on the north side of Lake Bemidji, at 5:33 p.m. Sunday for a grass fire.

According to Casper Urbanek, a forest officer for the state Department of Natural Resources who was at the scene, the fire started when one resident tried to burn a pile of what he called “fuzz” that had come off of the trees and covered his lawn, irritating him when he left the house.

He did so, however, without a permit from the DNR. And even if he had one, Urbanek said, he was burning outside the allowed times of 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

As he began burning the pile, the wind picked up and spread the fire. Some of the burning fuzz landed next to his neighbor’s garage, igniting the structure, Urbanek said.

“It just floated, and landed in the woods, on some dry leaves here and there,” Urbanek said. “And before he knew it, it just took off so they called 911 immediately.”

Bemidji firefighters arrived in time to save the garage, Urbanek said. Another five or 10 minutes, and the garage would have been fully engulfed, Urbanek said.

The neighbor who started the fire was issued a citation for negligent or careless acts resulting in a fire. He will also have to pay for the fire department and the DNR’s response costs, Urbanek said.

“He felt really, really bad,” Urbanek said.

Urbanek encouraged people to get educated about when they are allowed to burn debris and brush. He said a burn permit is required when there isn’t at least three feet of snow on the ground around the burn site.

“If people would just get a permit, call us up, go by the rules, they’ll be better off,” he said. “And then that might be able to stop something like this.”

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