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Wildfires force mandatory evacuation of south side of Karlstad, Minn.

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Gov. Mark Dayton directed two Blackhawk helicopters and a team of 13 Guard members to arrive today at Thief River Falls to help suppress a fire near Fourtown, Minn., that has grown to about 700 acres.

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And wildfires have forced the mandatory evacuation of the south side of Karlstad, Minn., this afternoon.

Some buildings, which were believed to be unoccupied, were on fire at about 3:30 p.m., according to the Kittson County Sheriff's Office.

The wildfires in the region have been fueled by strong southerly winds that have topped 40 mph this afternoon.

A large wildfire has been burning southwest of Karlstad since Sunday. It was reported to cover about 500 acres earlier today.

Local volunteer fire departments from Karlstad and all of Kittson County have been dispatched to the Karlstad scene.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota National Guard joined the battle today to control the series of wildfires that have been burning since the weekend in the region.

Two Blackhawk helicopters and at least a dozen Guardsmen were dispatched to Thief River Falls, upon the directive issued by Gov. Dayton.

The main target was a 700-acre fire, known as the Minnie Fire near Fourtown, Minn. The fire was about two miles long and about one-half-mile wide this morning and access had been difficult, according to the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center.

It's one of several weekend fires that still were burning today in what is considered the Wannaska Complex of northwest Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service extended its red flag fire warning to cover both western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota through today, as winds that topped 40 mph and relative humidity levels of 20 percent or lower turned the region into a tinderbox.

In addition, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources continued mop-up operations on two of four fires that were still burning this morning west of Middle River, Minn.

• East Park, a 150-acre fire in which firefighting efforts have been hampered by burning peat pockets, according to Jean Bergerson, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources public information officer who is part of the incident command system. Firefighters have been able to extinguish only about five acres per day, using heavy equipment to dig out and turn the peat.

• West Lincoln, a 15-acre fire in which mop-up work was underway Tuesday in a hardwood forest area.

• Richardville, a 980-acre fire north of Lancaster, Minn. While most of the fire was located in Manitoba, one residence and four outbuildings were destroyed Monday.

• Juneberry, a small area of peat, the site of a fire that initially was reported in August.

Besides the National Guard, the state has been aided by the use of aerial water scoopers to drop water and other fire suppressants from the air from Manitoba and Ontario, according to a report Tuesday.

Local volunteer fire departments also have been assisting.

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