REGIONAL—Area firefighters are hoping that rain showers and cooler temperatures forecast for later in the week will bring at least temporary relief to one of the worst spring fire seasons in …
REGIONAL—Area firefighters are hoping that cooler temperatures forecast for later in the week will bring at least temporary relief to one of the worst spring fire seasons in several years. Lack of precipitation, persistent low humidity, and gusty winds, fueled a spate of wildfires across northern Minnesota during the first ten days of May.
Early spring is traditionally a dangerous time for wildfires because of dead vegetation exposed by melting snow, which provides ready fuel for quick-burning fires under dry conditions.
While local firefighters have controlled most of the fire starts quickly, very high winds fanned a larger afternoon wildfire near Taylor Road in Embarrass on Saturday, May 7, prompting the evacuation of several families in the vicinity of the Embarrass Town Hall. Pilots from the Department of Natural Resources put on an impressive air show, deploying two Fire Boss water-scooping aircraft and a heavy tanker that dropped retardant on hot spots. Numerous fire departments turned out to fight the fire, including firefighters from Embarrass, Babbitt, Pike-Sandy, Vermilion Lake, Tower, Breitung and Eagles Nest.
The response kept the fire to about 250 acres despite the tinder dry conditions and high winds and allowed residents to go back to their homes by 8 p.m. that evening.
During the fire, heavy smoke lingered in the vicinity of County Road 21 and Levander Road for several hours as the fire crews battled the blaze. Local law enforcement set up roadblocks in several locations to keep the public out of harm’s way.
It was all part of a smoky weekend across much of northern Minnesota, as northwest winds pushed smoke into the region from the massive wildfire near Fort McMurray in northern Alberta as well as from fires closer to home. The smoky conditions prompted the state’s Pollution Control Agency to issue an air pollution alert late last Friday as the leading edge of the Alberta smoke plume arrived in the region, significantly limiting visibility and prompting unease among many residents who assumed the smoke was from other nearby fire activity.
Some of the fires in the region did produce plenty of smoke on their own. The Skibo Fire, southeast of Hoyt Lakes, proved the largest of the weekend at just over 1,000-acres. Sparks from a taconite train started 8-10 fires in the Skibo area last Friday, and the combined blazes kept firefighters busy through the early part of this week.