Dry conditions continue in northern Minnesota
The Minnesota Department Natural Resources' State Climatology Office is now classifying north-central Minnesota counties as "abnormally dry" and northeastern counties "in moderate drought." The problem began last year with precipitation shortfalls during the growing season, then continued with below normal snowfall this winter.
Precipitation totals from mid-March through mid-April are near or below all-time record lows; less than one-half inch of precipitation has fallen over most of northern Minnesota since the snow melted.
The National Weather Service is predicting this trend will continue through spring and possibly into July, causing drought conditions to intensify.
These abnormal conditions affect fire behavior. As the forest fuels continue to lose their moisture, fires can become bigger and burn hotter, making them more difficult to extinguish.
A number of fires this past week grew to 50-100 acres before firefighters could stop them. Once fires are contained, it is taking days to extinguish all the burning material because even the large dead and down material, which is normally still moist from winter snows, are burning.
A recent fire near Hoyt Lakes burned with flame lengths estimated at 300 feet. This same fire produced spot fires one-half to one mile away.
No rain is forecast for northern Minnesota for the next seven days. Until then grass, brush and trees will continue to dry out and the very high to extreme fire danger will continue.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) increased restrictions on open burning because of the hazardous fire conditions. The restrictions affect all burning, including campfires, fireworks, outdoor welding, and prescribed burning.
The 37 counties included are:
Aitkin, Anoka, Becker, Beltrami, Benton, Carlton, Cass, Chisago, Clearwater, Cook, Crow Wing, Douglas, Grant, Hubbard, Isanti, Itasca, Kanabec, Kittson, Koochiching, Lake, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Otter Tail, Pennington, Pine, Polk (that portion east of County Highway 6 and south of State Highway 92), Pope, Roseau, Sherburne, Stearns, Stevens, St Louis, Todd, and Wadena.
Burning permits are not being issued, with very limited exceptions, and only by state and federal forestry offices.
Under the new restrictions, fireworks are not allowed outside municipalities and devices with open flame, such as welders and acetylene torches, are prohibited in forest and grass areas, except under special permit.
Campfires are still allowed, however, the burning period has been restricted to 6 p.m. to
8 a.m. The fire must be in a fire receptacle designed for such use and associated with a residence, resort, or developed public and private campgrounds. In all situations, there must be an adequate source of water immediately available for extinguishing the campfire.
The DNR is no longer allowing prescribed burning and running fires until conditions improve, except in areas outside the aforementioned counties where the DNR regional director may authorize prescribed burning as necessary.
Restrictions will remain in place until sufficient precipitation is received to moderate fire danger. If normal precipitation is not received in the near future, additional restrictions may be imposed.