Minnesota Opinion: Use caution: It's already wildfire season

From the editorial: "Not that northern Minnesotans needed any reminders of wildfires this week, not with all the haze in our skies due to smoke from wildfires in ... Canada."

Gatis Sluka / Cagle Cartoons

It may seem like this winter’s record snowpack melted just a few days ago, but already — since May 1 in Minnesota and this year in Wisconsin — there have been nearly 500 wildfires, the states’ departments of natural resources reported this week.

The reports of so many so early were accompanied by reminders “that safety matters” and to “report wildfires immediately by calling 911 from a safe location.”

Minnesota Opinion editorial
Minnesota Opinion editorial
West Central Tribune graphic

“A quick clean-up of yard waste or a simple campfire might seem harmless, but on warm, sunny, or windy days, even a small fire near dry grass or brush can quickly become a rapidly moving wildfire,” the Minnesota DNR further said in a statement. “Not only do wildfires threaten property, but too often they lead to injuries and even fatalities.”

Rain this week should help dampen the danger, but it won’t take much dry, windy weather, as we move through spring and toward summer, to renew calls for caution. Common sense and awareness can help keep us all safe.

"We learn of people every year who have suffered serious injuries that require hospitalizations, or worse, fatalities, from attempting to control a wildfire on their own," Paul Lundgren, wildfire section manager with the DNR, said in the statement. "Just like a house fire, a wildfire is extremely dangerous and unpredictable.”


The DNR further reminded Minnesotans that, “As summer approaches, be careful when burning vegetation or enjoying an evening around the campfire. And remember, any fire larger than 3 feet (in) diameter and 3 feet high needs a burning permit .”

In Wisconsin, the fire danger up north is “very high,” according to the DNR. This includes Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland, Burnett, and Sawyer counties. Far-northern Wisconsinites were asked this week to avoid burning, and a fire watch was put into effect. The DNR and National Weather Service continue to closely monitor.

“The sandy pines areas of northern Wisconsin are always the slowest to green up,” the Wisconsin DNR said in its own statement Monday. “Additionally, tree growth in this part of the state is at a volatile stage. Combined with very low humidity and the potential for winds, fires could spread out of control rapidly at this time.”

Wisconsin’s 281 wildfires this year have burned more than 3,358 acres. By comparison, Fish Lake Reservoir near Duluth is 3,071 acres. Much of the fire activity was related to debris burning, which is the state’s single-largest cause of wildfires.

The DNR also urges those in northern Wisconsin to operate equipment like chainsaws, off-road vehicles, and lawn mowers early in the morning or late in the day to avoid sparks at peak burn hours; to secure trailer chains to keep them from dragging and sparking, which can cause a wildfire; to monitor fire conditions at ; and to delay campfires until evening when fire conditions tend to improve. Any campfires should be kept small and contained during peak wildfire conditions, and they should be completely extinguished before being left unattended.

The Wisconsin DNR took the threat of wildfires so seriously this week that it announced, as a precaution and for rapid response, it was positioning a pair of single-engine air tankers in Solon Springs. Two Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters were being stationed in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, as part of that same caution.

The Wisconsin DNR also offered this reminder: “May 14 marked the 10-year anniversary of the Germann Road Fire in Douglas and Bayfield counties, which burned 7,499 acres and destroyed 104 structures, 23 of which were residences. An estimated 350 structures were saved due to fire-control efforts. The fire began around 2:45 p.m. on May 14, 2013, and covered a swatch nearly 10 miles long and 1.5 miles wide before being declared 100% contained on May 15 at 9 p.m.”

Not that northern Minnesotans needed any reminders of wildfires this week, not with all the haze in our skies due to smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada.


The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an air quality alert Tuesday after a strong cold front pushed the Canadian smoke across all of the northern third of the state.

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The fear was that the unhealthy air could aggravate heart, lung, cardiovascular, and respiratory conditions, especially for those in sensitive groups. Symptoms to watch for include chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and fatigue, according to the MPCA.

To avoid these conditions, reduce outdoor physical activities, take more breaks during outdoor activities, or do less-intense activities. Those with asthma were urged by the MPCA to follow their asthma action plan and to keep their rescue inhalers handy.

Air quality and the threat of wildfires were both expected to improve as this week carried on. But wildfire season is far from over. Caution and common sense remain musts. Just ask the Wisconsin and Minnesota DNRs.

This Minnesota Opinion editorial is the viewpoint of the Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board. Send feedback to:

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