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DNR extends burning restrictions to Wadena County

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources extended annual spring burning restrictions to Wadena County April 21.

With little snow on the ground, the exposed, dead grasses are vulnerable to catching fire, particularly on sunny, windy days with low relative humidity. On its website April 21, the DNR rated the fire danger in Wadena County as “very high.”

“If a fire gets started, it’s going to spread and move quickly,” said Larry Himanga, DNR wildfire prevention coordinator.

Under the restrictions, he said, the state won’t allow burning of brush or yard waste until sufficient green vegetation growth occurs - usually within four to six weeks. The restrictions that began Monday also include Becker, Hubbard, Morrison and southern Cass counties. Last week, the agency stopped granting burning permits to residents of Todd and Otter Tail counties.

Over the past two weeks, fire departments throughout the region have responded to several grass fires, including one that burnt a few acres near a home in Lyons State Forest, searing the vinyl siding off of a shed but doing no other structural damage. The Wadena Fire Department extinguished four small fires April 19 along the railroad tracks just east of town. The blazes, which Fire Chief Dean Uselman said were sparked by a BNSF train, threatened no structures.

Each year, an average of about 1,250 fires burn 38,000 acres in Minnesota, Himanga said. More than 95 percent of these incidents are caused by human error. Most of them occur in open fields during April and May.

“We’re not so concerned about the woods this time of year,” Himanga said. 

Since the state started the annual spring burning restrictions in 2001, “we’ve drastically reduced the number of fires,” he said.   

Uselman said it’s tough to gauge the effectiveness of the rules.

“It should reduce the number of grass fires,” he said, “but unfortunately you still have people that burn without a permit.”

Illegal burning is a misdemeanor, but stiffer penalties often apply if a fire gets out of control.

The DNR still allows campfires during the restricted burning period. It recommends clearing the area around the fire, continuously monitoring it and making sure it’s cold to the touch before leaving.