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Controlled burn gets out of control at waterfowl production site north of Willmar

The plan Monday for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to burn 150 acres in the Weber Waterfowl Production Area north of Willmar. Somehow the fire jumped the line and quickly grew out of control, requiring assistance from four area fire departments and a DNR helicopter with a water bucket to finally put out the fire.

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A controlled burn managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grew out of control Monday at the Weber Waterfowl Production Area north of Willmar. Fire departments from Pennock, Willmar, New London and Spicer responded. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — A controlled burn Monday at the Weber Waterfowl Production Area north of Willmar grew out of control resulting in four area fire departments and a helicopter with a water bucket responding to put out the blaze.

Several homes in the path of the fire were protected and not damaged, but one firefighter needed medical attention.

It’s estimated that 20 to 40 acres of private land — mostly grass and volunteer cedar trees — was unintentionally burned in the fire.

Related story: Woman cooking maple syrup starts Stearns County grass fire

The burn was initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Scott Glup, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Litchfield , said the plan was to burn about 150 acres in the area, which is located along Kandiyohi County Roads 5 and 25, across the road from the Vikor Lutheran Church on Solomon Lake.

At some point the fire “jumped the line,” and even crossed some open water, said Glup. An assessment was underway Tuesday to determine when and where the breach occurred, but Glup said the exact cause may never be known.

The Fish and Wildlife crew on the scene called for assistance around 3:50 p.m. Monday with the Pennock Fire Department getting the initial call.

Matt Loppnow, Pennock assistant fire chief, said the Fish and Wildlife Service asked for help to “tame it down because it was getting out of control for them.” He said more help was needed and fire departments from Willmar, New London and Spicer responded.

“We kept calling for mutual aid,” Loppnow said. “We had every grass rig we could come up with.”

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources brought in a helicopter with a bucket that scooped up at least a half-dozen buckets of water from small ponds in the wildlife area, he said.

“There were some houses around,” Loppnow said. “That was our main concern, keeping the fire from going to the houses.”

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Once all the fire crews were working together, the fire “went down pretty quick,” he said.

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Houses line the burnt Weber Waterfowl Production Area along Kandiyohi County Road 5 north of Willmar after a controlled burn managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grew out of control Monday. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

According to Loppnow, a firefighter from the Willmar Fire Department was checked for heat exhaustion.

The fire departments were on the scene for about four hours but crews from the Fish and Wildlife Service were on the site until late Monday night making sure everything was secure, Glup said. They were back on the scene Tuesday to ensure there was no danger and to assess the damage and why the fire got out of control.

Glup said the weather conditions were within the prescription for a controlled burn. He said they may never know exactly what happened that caused the fire to spread.

Glup, who said homeowners affected by the fire were “very understanding” about the situation, had high praise for the community fire departments that worked to put out the blaze.

“We want to extend our appreciation to the fire departments for coming out and helping,” he said. “They were very, very helpful.”

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Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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