Wind, drought contribute to nearly 2,000 acre wildland fire by Lancaster
By Anna Jauhola
Nearly 2,000 acres of mostly state-managed land burned last week 10 miles east of Lancaster.
Plumes of smoke could be seen from miles away and Lancaster Fire Chief Casey Faken knew it was a bad one. While he did not go out on the initial call at 4:40 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5, Faken made sure to call the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to get additional resources on the ground.
“I could smell smoke about 10 or 11 o’clock,” Faken said. “By the time we finished for the day, and I got out of the wooded area, you could just see a huge fire burning.”
The Grand Forks weather station called in the fire to Kittson County Dispatch after detecting it on GPS satellite. Lancaster firefighters responded and sized up the situation, knowing it was huge, Faken said.
“We knew it was bad so I was trying to get aircraft in there,” he said.
Lake Bronson, Hallock and Greenbush fire departments responded for mutual aid to help contain the fire until DNR and state entities could arrive from Wannaska and Warroad. Faken said all entities worked through 2 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6 to backburn and prevent the fire from jumping County State Aid Highway 4. State agencies brought in heavy equipment like bulldozers and tracked vehicles to help establish a containment line around the fire. Other agencies responding to the fire were Minnesota DNR, U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy.
According to a press release from the Minnesota Incident Command System, the fire started in the Beaches Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in McKinley and Cannon townships. Dry conditions and steady wind exacerbated the fire and its rapid growth. The fire burned through tall grass, brush, timber and swampland.
The fire itself was gauged to be 1,936 acres and produced an eerie glow for surrounding residents, which was captured on camera.
MNICS brought in helicopters to help suppress the wildland fire and its progression. With help from local and state entities, the fire was contained to 90 percent by Friday afternoon. It remained at 90 percent contained Monday afternoon.
Leanne Langeberg, public information officer for MNICS, said an incident command crew settled in at Hallock Thursday and were onsite at the fire through the weekend.
“Just with the amount of peat soils, we want to make sure we’re getting water into those soils and getting them cooled down,” Langeberg said. “Of course, crews continue to work on the perimeter of the fire so that the area surrounding the fire continues to hold to that 1,936 acres.”
As of Monday, Oct. 11, 55 people from state entities were on scene to help manage the fire. Over the weekend, the area received 1.5 inches of rain. It cooled down timber areas, which allowed firefighters to walk along a larger portion of the perimeter to contain remaining hotspots.
According to a press release from MNICS, “Fire crews and heavy equipment were able to work through the daylight hours despite the rain. They continue to make great progress on extinguishing larger peat areas holding heat as they mix the peat with bare mineral soil. Tracked vehicle and fire crews also continue to focus on extinguishing smaller pockets of peat soil holding heat.”
Officials flew over the area with an infrared camera Monday to identify any remaining hotspots.
The crews continued to get water trucked in from local sources.
The fire remains under investigation to determine how and where it started.