July storm could have repercussions during winter, next year
BEMIDJI – The July 2 windstorm that devastated the Bemidji area happened months ago, but public safety officials say its effects could be felt in the future.
The storm produced wind speeds of about 80 mph, damaging or knocking down thousands of trees in the region. While some of the downed trees have been cleaned up, there are still some damaged trees standing.
That’s a concern this winter, when wind and snow could cause braches and trees to fall on power lines, said Chris Muller, assistant emergency management director at the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office.
He encouraged area residents to call their power company if they notice downed or damaged trees that could fall on a power line.
“That’s kind of what we’re concerned about, is if we get significant ice or snow on any combination of wind, those weakened trees are just more prone to collapse and fall,” Muller said. “There are still a lot of areas where trees are encroaching into the … power line right of ways.”
But the downed trees will be a danger past the winter months, Muller said. If conditions stay as dry as they were this summer and fall, wildfires could become more intense and harder to battle.
The early October wildfire in northern Hubbard County, which prompted the brief evacuation of some homes, could have been much worse. Muller said the fire came within a mile of an area with a large number of affected trees.
“Had it gotten into that blow-down area, the fire would have been incredibly difficult to extinguish,” Muller said.
DNR area supervisor Greg Nelson said a couple fires were started this year from people burning piles of wood in order to clean up after the storm. He added that once there’s at least three inches of continuous snow on the ground, residents don’t need a burning permit.
“That’s when we would encourage people to burn their larger piles,” Nelson said. “But it’s also something they need to keep in the back of their mind that next spring, they better check those piles because they can hold heat all winter sometimes.”
Bemidji Fire Chief Dave Hoefer said the trees that fell over this year slowly started to dry out, but it will become more of an issue in the near future.
“It’s probably going to be a concern for us here next year and the year after as those fuels continue to dry out,” Hoefer said. He noted that trees take much longer than grass to dry, but once they do, it takes a lot of precipitation to retain moisture.
“That’s one of the things we typically don’t see in the Bemidji area is those heavier fuels being as dry as they were this fall, and what they have the potential to have … next spring,” Hoefer said.