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A fire that broke out Sunday evening northwest of Greenbush, Minn., had burned about 4,000 acres of grass and brushland habitat as of Monday morning. Fire departments from Lancaster, Hallock, Lake Bronson and Greenbush, along with teams from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, have been working to control the fire. (Photo/ Shawn Olsen, Minnesota DNR)

Fire in far northern Minnesota burns about 5,800 acres; 30 counties in burn ban

GREENBUSH, Minn. -- Firefighters are working to control a large grass fire that started Sunday night about 15 miles northwest of Greenbush in western Roseau County.

Known as the “County Road 7 Fire,” the fire had burned about 5,800 acres of grass and brushland as of Monday afternoon, said Adam Munstenteiger, area forestry supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources in Warroad, Minn.

“We have been having a hard time turning the corner today on the fire,” Munstenteiger said in an email Monday afternoon. “Seems like they make progress but then take a step backwards.”

He described the situation as “OK, but tenuous.”

Firefighters from the Lancaster, Lake Bronson and Hallock fire departments in Kittson County, along with the Greenbush Fire Department from Roseau County, have been battling the grass fire, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has provided both air and ground support.

Firefighting resources include aerial suppression tankers capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of water or retardant and a “hele-tanker” helicopter with a snorkel to pull water from smaller water sources, said Christi Powers, public information officer for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids.

“It’s probably one of our largest fires so far this year,” Powers said.

Statewide, the Minnesota Incident Command System dispatched 40 aircraft to 17 fires Sunday, Powers said, a number that doesn’t include work on the ground. Nearly 200 fires were reported across Minnesota over the weekend, and the County Road 7 fire alone, exceeds the total acreage burned statewide last spring, Powers said.

“Last year, we had less than 3,000 acres all year in acres burned,” she said.

The area of the fire northwest of Greenbush is mainly grass and swampland, a “checkerboard” area of DNR- and Roseau County-owned lands, Munstenteiger said. Driven by strong south winds, the fire extends about 5 miles north of County Road 7 in an area that’s about 1 mile wide from west to east.

“It’s primarily state land, but it is up against private land on the left flank on the west side of the fire, so there are homes, farms and structures up there” that face potential threats, Munstenteiger said. “It’s not something we can just let run its course.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation, he said.

The weekend was “very nasty” for fires, with extreme dry conditions and strong south winds that Sunday triggered Red Flag warnings across much of the state, Munstenteiger said. The DNR had just gotten a major fire at a trailer court near Warroad under control Sunday when word came in about the fire northwest of Greenbush, he said.

Burning restrictions went into effect Monday across northwest Minnesota including Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Pennington and Roseau counties and northern Beltrami County, Munstenteiger said. Also affected by the ban are Anoka, Benton, Chisago, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Hennepin, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Norman, Otter Tail, Pine, Pope, Ramsey, Sherburne, Stearns, Stevens, Todd, Traverse, Wadena, Wilkin and Wright counties.

The DNR will not issue burning permits for brush or yard waste in the affected areas until the ban is lifted after green-up occurs in late May or early June. The DNR does issue variance permits for grass seed farmers when conditions permit, Munstenteiger said, but that’s the only exception.

“Otherwise, the spring cleaning burning is done for the time being,” he said. “People just need to be smart and aware of the conditions when they’re doing things outdoors.

“Until the grass greens up, this is just a really volatile time of year.”

Fire danger is in the “very high” category across northwest Minnesota, with “extreme” conditions in portions of Lake of the Woods, northern Beltrami and western Koochiching counties, the DNR said Monday. In North Dakota, the National Weather Service said the eastern two-thirds of North Dakota is in the “moderate” fire danger category, with fire danger in the western third of the state listed as “low.”

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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