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Red Flag warnings possible as fire danger rises

The Rush Lake fire in the Pine Point community near Ponsford burned just over 100 acres. Air tankers dropped 3,200 gallons of water to help extinguish the fire, which was spotted by a Department of Natural Resources detection plane. (Photo courtesy of DNR)

Now that the snow cover has melted, fire danger in the area is high.

Burning permits are required and caution is advised with anything that could spark a fire, as grass and dead leaves are dry tinder until things green up.

According to Brad Witkin, a program forester at the Park Rapids Department of Natural Resources (DNR) office, a fire weather watch was issued for west-central Minnesota, including the Park Rapids area, Thursday.

He explained that welding, throwing a cigarette butt on the ground, not extinguishing ashes from a fire correctly or even a hot muffler touching dry grass can all start fires in these dry conditions in early spring.

Fire danger is highest on warm, windy days. That is the type of weather forecast for this weekend.

"The fire danger this weekend is expected to be high or very high," Witkin said. "If the winds are up and the humidity is down, we could go into a Red Flag warning." He explained that is the highest level of fire danger in the DNR warning system.

Pine Point fire burned 100 acres

Witkins said that the largest fire in the area this week was in the Pine Point community on the White Earth Reservation near Ponsford. The fire burned approximately 100 acres.

"The fire was spotted by our DNR detection plane," Witkins said. "Anytime we spot a fire, we have to give it a name, so our dispatcher came up with the name 'Rush Lake Fire' because it was near Rush Lake.

Witkins said two air tanker planes dropped a total of 3,200 gallons of water on the fire. The Carsonville Fire Department had two trucks on scene and White Earth Tribal Forestry Wildland Firefighters had two trucks as well.

"The DNR had two track vehicles, a bulldozer and six fire engines," he said. "Our guys started around 4:45 p.m. and got back in about 10 p.m. By then it was basically under control."

He said there were no buildings in the vicinity of the fire.

"Nothing was threatened," he said. "The White Earth crew was back out there today mopping up."

He explained that the term "mopping up" is a term for what firefighters do following a fire to extinguish any remaining hot spots so they don't "fan up" in the wind.

"The fire started on White Earth land so it's their responsibility," he said. "We're cooperators. We have an agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs that we share resources without any cost consideration during the first burning period."

Some Park Rapids residents who saw and smelled smoke in town Wednesday were concerned there may have been a fire. Witkin said that was a DNR controlled burn by the fisheries.

"They burned the cattails around the fisheries, as they do every other year," he said. "It's an area that is less than two acres."

Burning restrictions

Burning permits are required statewide anytime there is less than three inches of snow.

A permit is not needed for campfires, but they need to be under 3-by-3-feet in size and the area cleared eight feet around of anything combustible.

"We put burning restrictions on when we get to our driest period until things green up," he said. He said the Park Rapids DNR office covers 12 counties.

"Monday we're putting restrictions on a line that includes Wadena and Ottertail counties and up over to Clay and Norman counties," he said. "It's looking like on May 7 the restrictions will be going on in Becker and Hubbard counties."

A link on the DNR fire information page shows fire danger and where restrictions are in effect. Maps are updated daily.

Anyone seeing possible fire activity should call 911 and the sheriff's office will page the DNR along with local firefighters as needed.

Emergency alerts

Hubbard County uses the Everbridge emergency notification system to alert residents of fires, severe weather, law enforcement incidents and other emergencies.

Register by going to the Hubbard County Sheriff's website. Select the "Emergency Notification" link, click on "Register/Create" and follow the prompts to create a username and password. Choose how to be notified (text, email or phone call) and which which notifications to receive under "alert subscriptions."

In order to receive notifications on a cell phone, download the Everbridge Mobile Safety App through Google Play or the iTunes app store.

Update account information or notifications by logging in to your account through the Hubbard County website.

Anyone without access to a computer or who has questions about the process may call the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office at 732-3331 to register.

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