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Grass fire season underway: Fires burn near Nisswa, Brainerd

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Firefighters from Nisswa, Mission and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fight a brush fire Tuesday, April 23, in Lake Edward Township. Crow Wing County currently is in a low fire danger zone. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video 2 / 3
Brainerd firefighter James Norwood battles a running brush fire Tuesday, April 23, near North Long Lake Road south of Merrifield. Firefighters have been busy responding to grass fires in recent days following snow melt. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video 3 / 3

Goodbye snow, hello grass fires.

'Tis the season as the snow has left and warmer temperatures have come and made the conditions dry - thus elevating the level of fire danger.

More than a half dozen grass fires were reported last weekend, April 20-21, in the lakes area. Then as temperatures reached the upper 60s Tuesday afternoon, April 23, a fire burned close to an acre on the 9900 block of Essex Lane, Lake Edward Township, southeast of Nisswa. The fire was contained before it could reach adjacent buildings.

Later at 7:36 p.m., another fire was reported on the 10000 block of North Long Lake Road in the First Assessment District, north of Brainerd.

Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said the wind was in firefighters' favor in fighting the grass fire on North Long Lake Road, as the fire was moving away from the home and moving slowly.

"No structures were truly threatened from the fire," Holmes said of the blaze that burned less than an acre on the homeowner's property.

Holmes said the fire started when some teenagers were splitting wood and they had a small fire that got away from them. The fire mainly burned the grass in the woods and along the homeowner's driveway and east of their driveway.

"People don't realize how dry it is," Holmes said. "With the warmer temperatures and the wind we've had over the past few days, it really is surprising how fast it dries out. It may seem wet around your yard, but once you get into the woods it's dry."

Nisswa Fire Chief Shawn Bailey said the fire in Lake Edward Township started when a property owner was cleaning up her trash and burning leaves and brush, when the wind picked up and spread the fire. A dozen firefighters with Nisswa and Mission Fire and Rescue and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources assisted in extinguishing the fire. North Memorial Ambulance was on scene, but there were no injuries.

"Residents should take caution before they burn as it's really dry outside," Bailey said. "We ask our residents to please comply with all the burning restrictions that are in place."

The DNR placed Crow Wing, Cass and other area counties in a low fire danger zone as of Tuesday, Aug. 23. Areas to the north and west, however - including Wadena County - range from moderate to high fire danger zones.

Area residents must get a burning permit if they want to burn. A burning permit allows people to burn small amounts of dry leaves, plant clippings, brush and clean untreated/unpainted wood, as long as weather conditions do not pose a fire hazard. Residents are not allowed to burn until after 6 p.m. and the fire must be out cold before 8 a.m.

The DNR on April 23 released its spring burning restrictions for much of the state. The DNR restricted open burning in the following counties effective immediately: Mille Lacs, Morrison and Todd counties in the lakes area, as well as the counties of Anoka, Benton, Chisago, Douglas, Grant, Hennepin, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Pope, Ramsey, Sherburne, Stearns, Stevens,Traverse, Washington and Wright. The state will not issue burning permits for brush or yard waste in these counties until restrictions are lifted.

"Escaped debris burns are the No. 1 cause of wildfires, so that's why we issue these restrictions," Casey McCoy, DNR fire prevention supervisor, said in the news release. "They really work - we've reduced wildfires by nearly a third since we started spring burning restrictions in 2001."

McCoy encourages residents to use alternatives to burning, such as composting, chipping or taking brush to a collection site. For information on how to compost yard debris, visit the DNR's guide to composting yard debris online at https://tinyurl.com/y3k238dw.

People who burn debris will be held financially responsible if their fire escapes and burns other property, the DNR stated. Burning restrictions will be adjusted, including extension of restrictions to additional counties, as conditions change. For more information and daily updates on current fire risk and open burning restrictions, go to https://tinyurl.com/y2ot8pyo.

"We are just starting to see an increase in fire activity, but nothing real significant," said Leanne Langeberg, public information officer with the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. The state agency, based in Grand Rapids, serves as a hub for mobilization of wildfire and emergency resources.

Langeberg said right now their main message is fire prevention. The agency reports the leading cause of wildfires is escaped fire that can easily occur during spring cleanup as residents dispose of dried grass, fallen leaves or logs and yard waste. Fires can quickly spread especially on warm and windy days.

"This is a good time to remind folks that burning yard and debris at this time as the snow has melted to be aware of the weather conditions," Langeberg said. "If it's not right to burn then save it for another time, when conditions are less dry."

Langeberg said the second message to folks is for those who fly drones to stay away from wildfires. The area around a wildfire is a no-drone zone. The DNR agrees.

"Most people wouldn't dream of driving their car in front of a fire engine that's responding to a fire," McCoy stated. "Flying your drone during a wildfire is just as reckless: we have to ground our planes until the drone gets out of the way, and that slows down our ability to fight the fire."

This happened last year during a wildfire in Little Falls. DNR pilots had to land firefighting helicopters because a drone was buzzing overhead. According to McCoy, "interfering with fire operations in this way is dangerous for our aircraft, firefighters on the ground, and the general public."

The reason drones pose such a problem is because they fly at roughly the same altitude as wildfire suppression aircraft. Even a small drone can cause a firefighting helicopter to crash if the drone makes contact with the aircraft.

Flying a drone over a wildfire isn't just dangerous, it's illegal: Federal law prohibits interfering with firefighting operations, and that includes flying a drone over a wildfire, the DNR states.

To protect firefighting aircraft, temporary flight restrictions may extend over a 5-mile radius of a wildfire. Even if temporary flight restrictions are not in place, people will be penalized if their drone is caught near a wildfire.

The DNR states: "Be fire wise and fire safe. No photo or video is worth the risk. Drop the drone near all wildfires."

For more information about drones and wildfires, go to https://tinyurl.com/y3nk62p2.

Jennifer Kraus

A big part of my day is chasing down tips on a variety of breaking news stories, relating to vehicle crashes, fires, police incidents and court cases. I’m always thankful when people call in tips to alert me on an incident so I can follow up and see if the tip is actually something that occurred or is a rumor. It’s a big scope to keep track of as we not only cover Brainerd and Crow Wing County incidents, but we also cover the surrounding counties and cities. I also gather information on the entertainment scene, so if you are hosting a band or choir concert, an art exhibit, a play or other theater production -- I want to hear about it. If you know of a story on any of these beats, give me a shout! To help support local journalism, click here to sign up to receive a Dispatch digital subscription to our e-edition or to receive the printed paper at your door, or to get both.

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