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Cottonwood fluff fuels Nisswa wildfire, chief says

Fifteen Nisswa firefighters — along with eight from Pequot Lakes, 11 from Mission Township and about eight from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources — were called at 6:58 p.m. to a wildfire on East Clark Lake Road in Nisswa.

Cottonwood fluff clings to trees lit by a fire truck at the scene of a wildfire
Cottonwood fluff clings to trees lit by a fire truck at the scene of a wildfire Thursday, June 9, 2022, on East Clark Lake Road in Nisswa. Nisswa Fire Chief Shawn Bailey said the fluff was a major factor in causing the fire to spread, eventually burning about 18 acres.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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NISSWA — A wildfire drawing response from multiple area fire departments Thursday night, June 9, in Nisswa burned about 18 acres and spread more quickly because of abundant cottonwood fluff accumulating on the ground.

“White cotton from these cotton trees should not be lit. It’s more flammable than gasoline,” said Nisswa Fire Chief Shawn Bailey. “ … It’s extremely rapid. Normally, we’re already done with our green-up this time of year, but it’s burning across the top and the fire is running across the green.

Emergency personnel finish up at the scene of a wildfire Thursday, June 9, 2022, on East Clark Lake Road in Nisswa.
Emergency personnel finish up at the scene of a wildfire Thursday, June 9, 2022, on East Clark Lake Road in Nisswa.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“I’ve never witnessed something like this. It’s crazy.”

Bailey and 14 other Nisswa firefighters — along with eight from Pequot Lakes, 11 from Mission Township and about eight from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources — were called at 6:58 p.m. to a wildfire on East Clark Lake Road in Nisswa. Bailey said the fire ran through a wooded area and licked up trees.

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Emergency personnel finish up at the scene of a wildfire Thursday, June 9, 2022, on East Clark Lake Road in Nisswa.
Emergency personnel finish up at the scene of a wildfire Thursday, June 9, 2022, on East Clark Lake Road in Nisswa.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Mutual aid from the other departments included as many as 17 trucks, a utility task vehicle and Bombardier J5 firefighting track vehicles. The fire did not threaten any structures and no injuries occurred, Bailey said. East Clark Lake Road was closed for a time for the safety of personnel, he added.

Emergency personnel finish up at the scene of a wildfire Thursday, June 9, 2022, on East Clark Lake Road in Nisswa.
Emergency personnel finish up at the scene of a wildfire Thursday, June 9, 2022, on East Clark Lake Road in Nisswa.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

As of 10 p.m. Thursday, Bailey estimated the fire was 95% contained with a few hotspots remaining. Some crews would return in the morning to ensure it was completely out, he said.

The cause of the fire was unknown Thursday night. It remains under investigation according to the chief.

After a relatively quiet grass fire season, Bailey said this week, conditions turned ripe for fires, in large part because of the fluff.

“Don’t light the white,” he said.

The National Weather Service in Duluth warned of near-critical fire weather in the region earlier Thursday. Dry conditions with low relative humidity and breezy winds combined to conditions conducive to rapid spread of fire. The high temperature at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Thursday was 79 degrees.

“Remember what the bear in the hat says,” the weather service wrote on Twitter.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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