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Sunburg firefighters battle a stubborn grass fire April 4 west of Sunburg that tore through tall grass and shrubs in a wildlife area, as well as farm fields that had corn stubble. Officials warn west central Minnesota residents to remain cognizant of the burning restrictions in place because of the dry weather and land conditions. Tribune photo

Fire risk high across west central Minnesota

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local Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/040612-sunburg-fire-2.jpg?itok=SwlWL1R1
West Central Tribune
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Fire risk high across west central Minnesota
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Drought conditions, high winds and acres of dry fuel in fields, ditches and grasslands have made the region ripe for fires.

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According to the most recent information from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the fire danger rating in central Minnesota is classified as "very high."

"With this wind we've had these last couple days it's just prime for it," said Josh Gilberts, the fire chief in Lake Lillian.

Corn fields are "like paper," said Gilberts who urges farmers to keep their equipment clean and carry fire extinguishers with them in the fields. A hot gear box or stock chopper, as well as a spark from equipment hitting rocks could ignite a field, Gilberts said.

A fire this week north of Kandiyohi was caused when a corn chopper hit a rock, said Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog. "It's just very dry."

Burning restrictions are in effect for most area counties, including: Big Stone, Chippewa, Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker, Pope, Redwood, Renville, Stearns, Swift and Yellow Medicine.

New burning permits will not be issued and existing permits will not activated, said Hartog.

Small campfires are still allowed under restricted conditions but they must be contained in fire rings and Gilberts said water should be kept close by in case wind gusts carry sparks.

"People need to keep their heads and watch what they're doing," he said.

The DNR and the Minnesota Incident Command System said fire danger in much of the state is at a "seasonal all-time high" since automated local records have been kept, according to a news release.

The departments are asking for the public's help and cooperation to prevent fires and minimize fire danger.

Hartog said people should not throw cigarettes out of car windows where embers could "hit the ditch and just take off."

He also advised people not to drive cars in ditches or fields where hot catalytic converters could start the grass underneath the car on fire.

"It's something you could do so easily," said Hartog. "Just keep in mind the hot surfaces and that dry grass and be careful and pay attention to what you're doing."

The fires in northern Minnesota earlier this week that resulted in the loss of homes and consumed more than 40,000 acres, and a serious fire risk in the central and southern part of the state "will continue to challenge local emergency response resources if additional fires should start," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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