Fires, damage to crops and trees feared as drought continues
Officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Incident Command System said Wednesday the fire danger is at a seasonal all-time high in much of Minnesota, at least since automated local records have been kept.
They went on to say the help and cooperation of the general public is needed statewide to help prevent and minimize the fire danger.
"We have a unique and dangerous combination of fires that are not yet well contained up north, and a serious fire risk in the south that will continue to challenge local emergency response resources if additional fires should start," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
The two large fires and several smaller ones centered in the Karlstad and Baudette areas have consumed more than 40,000 acres so far, resulting in evacuations, lost homes and burned structures. Fortunately, there are no known injuries at this time. The extremely high winds on Tuesday intensified widespread drought conditions, dry vegetation and persistent low humidity, which even grounded some aerial firefighting resources.
In this region, fires aren't the danger from the drought; rather, disease and insects are, said Kurt Hinz, a DNR timber program forester in Lewiston.
Trees are like humans because diseases and other things are constantly attacking them, he said. If the trees are healthy and have enough energy, they fight off the problems. If they are weak, they might be affected and eventually die, he said.
"It takes a little bit longer for the trees to be affected, but definitely, in the long term, it's going to harm the trees as well," he said. "The trees are starting to get more stressed."
He's seeing fewer acorns this year, but that could be because of the early warm weather followed by a freeze in late spring, he said.
People who have trees in their lawns can water them, but there's no way to water wild trees, he said.
It was just those tinder-dry conditions that sent three area fire departments on a call late Thursday afternoon.
A barn at 61641 205th Ave., just north and east of Dodge Center was destroyed in the blaze; a nearby shed also caught fire and was likely also a complete loss.
"I thought we were supposed to get some rain today," said Dodge County Sheriff Jim Jensen. "I'd even take some of that snow they're getting up north," just to have the moisture.
Though the cause of the fire was still unknown late Thursday, there was a wood-burning stove and an outside furnace "close to where the barn was," Jensen said. "Just a guess, but with this wind, that could be it."
Calves kept in the barn were safely removed, he said, and no injuries were reported.
Firefighters from Dodge Center, Kasson and Mantorville all responded to the fire, which was reported about 4:30 p.m. The farm is owned by Alan Hanenberger.