BEMIDJI — Monday afternoon’s grass fire in southeast Bemidji made one thing clear to the city’s fire chief Dave Hoefer.
“I think that fire…kind of proved how dry things actually are,” Hoefer said.
There, a permit-sanctioned wood pile fire ignited the surrounding grass.
In the wake of that fire and high winds, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources cut off local burn permits Tuesday after-noon until further notice. That meant those trying to activate their burn permit through the DNR’s electronic system were unable to do so.
The DNR’s decision affected south Beltrami, north Cass, Hubbard, Mahnomen, Clearwater and Polk counties.
“Just to be safe, we went and restricted the permits…just for (Tuesday night),” said Greg Vollhaber, the assistant area forester for the local DNR office. “Now if the winds die down (Wednesday) and they’re more moderate, which they’re supposed to be, we’ll turn the system back on and people will be able to activate their permits.”
Hoefer said an especially dry spell in 2012, combined with the fact that vegetation hasn’t yet become green this year has made conditions potentially dangerous.
“I think the DNR’s proactive approach today was well-justified and worth it,” Hoefer said. “As we get these windy conditions we could easily get something ripping out of hand here today.”
That concern proved to be justified.
Not two hours after that phone interview, strong winds knocked a tree into a power line and started a grass fire about 9 miles north of Kelliher. That prompted a response from the Kelliher and Blackduck fire departments.
The fire was quickly under control, but it perhaps signaled the start of another tough season for emergency responders in the area.
In October 2012, a large grass fire in northern Hubbard County forced the evacuation of some homes and drew firefighting aircraft to the scene. That same week, the small town of Karlstad, Minn. had to be evacuated due to a large wildfire.
Vollhaber said recent heavy snow and rain in the forecast should help. He asked people to be mindful of the current conditions, and reiterated that they’re required to obtain a permit before burning.
“I think short-term, with this snow pack and the moisture we’ve received the last four weeks, we’re looking much better than we thought we were going to be,” he said. “Once we get beyond the spring season, it’ll all depend on the amount of rains we get.”