Late snows and late thaws make for deceptively dry brush and grass that can contribute to higher dangers of wildfire.
“The low humidity and the wind, lack of rain, warm days — it all contributes to drying things out,” said Pine River Fire Chief Kevin Kleiner. “Usually when the snow melts you wouldn’t think of the grass and the land as being dry, but it always is really dry until we get a lot of good rain.”
As a result of these dry spring conditions, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began a burning ban Monday, May 6, in Crow Wing, southern Cass and 13 additional Minnesota counties. This is a standard procedure to prevent fires that could destroy wild land and property, and pose a threat to human life.
“In the past fire season, I would say this period might last maybe up to a month, but it just depends. This is a real late spring, too. Whether that is going to have anything to do with it, I don’t know. But in a typical year, let’s say the snow is gone in the middle of April, I would say probably about the middle of May,” Kleiner said of the length of the fire season.
Hackensack Fire Chief Tony Peterson, among other authorities, said the burning ban would remain until conditions become less dry.
“It depends upon if we have any moisture. It all comes back to that moisture thing,” Peterson said. “The grass has got to be green. You have to get a little bit of leaves on the trees.”
Peterson said temperatures and light were also determining factors in how long it will take for grasses to green up in the area.
Kleiner said the DNR Forestry Division handles most grass or brush fires, though fire departments sometimes assist by protecting structures from spreading fire, filling water tanks for the DNR and helping in other ways. Fire trucks and water tankers do not operate well on muddy, minimum maintenance roads. Fire departments prefer to keep their heavy vehicles on solid ground.
Mark Mortensen, DNR fire program forester in Brainerd, said muddy roads could be the least of the difficulties crews responding to wildfires face.
“We have no water available at this point for use of the CL-215 air tankers,” Mortensen said last week, noting there were no large enough openings of water for the water scoopers.
As with any time of year, fire prevention is key. That’s why residents should follow the burning ban. What starts off as a leaf fire, camp fire or even a barbecue grill could potentially set off a dangerous blaze that could destroy homes as well as wild lands.
“I suggest that they don’t even try it (burning during the burning ban),” Kleiner said. “When people are burning things, be careful, watch the wind, watch where you are burning at. Things can change real quickly when you are burning.”
“Just be careful when you’re out there doing that stuff. If they’re not careful it can get away from them so quick, and the wind isn’t going to help them out at all, it’ll just spread it faster,” Peterson said. “It’s coming. As soon as a lot of people start coming back and cleaning their yards, it’s going to happen.”
Spring brush and grass fires are common. The Pine River and Hackensack fire departments each responded to between six and eight uncontrolled grass or brush fires last year.