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Wildfire threat remains high despite recent rain

Most of Minnesota continues to experience a prolonged drought that began in mid-July. Although much needed, the rain that fell over much of the state last week had minimal impact on the potential for wildfires, according to Ron Stoffel, wildfire suppression supervisor at the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. Most areas need a half to one inch of rain each week to curtail wildfire risk. If rains don't continue, caution will still be needed in outdoor activities until more significant moisture is received.

"The rain we got definitely helped, but we need more," Stoffel said. "It is still really dry out there, which means the fire danger could be back at very high to extreme in just a couple days."

The danger of wildfire has been steadily rising since early to mid-August. While lack of rain is a contributing factor, a general lack of snow cover across most of the state last winter didn't help matters. That caused some areas to enter the growing season with moisture deficits, thus creating a busier-than-normal spring wildfire season. After promising amounts of rain in June, unseasonable fire activity resumed during the late summer months.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) urges hunters and other recreational users to use caution with any outdoor open flames such as campfires and other heating sources. Stoffel said exhaust systems from vehicles parked on dry grass, and equipment used to harvest crops and trees, can also unintentionally spark a wildfire.

Wildfire fighting resources have been on heightened alert for the past few weeks as conditions have worsened. Crews and equipment from the Minnesota DNR, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been battling blazes across the state. Local volunteer fire departments have also been busy. Agencies fighting wildfires in Minnesota have been reporting 20 to 30 fires per week.

"Although most of these wildfires were kept small with a combination of aerial and ground forces, the dryness of the forest fuels has required ground crews to spend a significant amount of time mopping up," Stoffel said.

The DNR recommends some simple steps homeowners can take to help protect their homes and property from wildfire. These include:

o mowing grass short, especially along roadsides and under evergreen trees where branches reach near the ground

o removing dead dry leaves and grasses for at least three feet around the house

o cleaning leaves and needles from gutters, roof and decks, and also clearing leaves and debris from under decks

o moving firewood piles to a distance of at least 30 feet away from buildings

o ensuring prompt response time of firefighters and other emergency responders by keeping house numbers and fire numbers visible from the road.

Homeowners can learn more about safeguarding their property against wildfires by visiting the DNR's Firewise Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us/firewise.  The latest information regarding Minnesota fire danger levels can be found at www.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/fire

 

 

 

 

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