Northland braces for a dry week ahead, no-burn conditions in Carlton CountyNear-record warm temperatures, sunny skies, low humidity, gusty winds and a snowpack that melted long ago will combine this week to create perfect conditions for wildfires across the Northland.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune, Pine Journal
Near-record warm temperatures, sunny skies, low humidity, gusty winds and a snowpack that melted long ago will combine this week to create perfect conditions for wildfires across the Northland.
Tuesday and Wednesday look to be the most critical days, with temperatures near 70 degrees or higher in some areas coupled with strong south winds.
“This is really unusual for March. … Normally, we still have snow on the ground; we’d still be getting lake-effect snow off Lake Superior," said Jay Gallagher, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources area forestry leader in Brule. “On Saturday we got our first precipitation of the month in Brule, three-hundredths of an inch of rain. That’s all we’ve had for the entire month of March.’’
It’s not much better in Minnesota.
“We’ve been snow-free statewide for some time now and we’ve been seeing fires statewide. We’re expecting Tuesday and Wednesday to really kick in," said Jean Bergerson, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Inter-Agency Fire Center in Grand Rapids.
Because the ground has been cold and moist until now, fires have been small and slow-moving. But even forested areas will begin to dry out this week. Afternoons are usually the most-active fire periods when sun, heat and wind are at their highest and humidity is often the lowest of the day.
“But [Monday morning] we had a fire in Blackduck that got going at 9 a.m. That’s really unusual," Bergerson said.
The region sees its most-active fire season each year in spring, before new grass and leaves sprout and summer rains arrive. But spring fire season has arrived nearly a month early this year.
Last summer’s grass, leaves and brush that usually are still snow-covered, or at least damp from melting snow, already are bone-dry and ready to quickly spread any fire that starts.
Duluth is short a little more than a half-inch for rainfall in March and down an inch for 2010. But some areas, especially northern Wisconsin, have seen months of below-normal precipitation, leaving streams, lakes and swamps low or dry and opening up more areas for fire to spread.
Many wildfires start by unattended camp, brush or garbage fires that spread out of control. Others are caused by careless smokers, arson and sparks from motorized equipment and trains.
Minnesota has ground-based air tankers and helicopters on hand but is waiting for lake ice to melt to bring the state’s CL-215 water bombers up from their winter home in Arizona. Wisconsin also is moving in airplanes for its firefighting effort, Gallagher said.
Burning restrictions in place
The Wisconsin DNR has stopped issuing most burning permits in Northwestern Wisconsin until conditions improve, meaning no brush fires are allowed. Minnesota DNR also has stopped issuing most burning permits in southern St. Louis, Carlton, Itasca, Aitkin and Pine counties but is still allowing fires with permits in Lake, Cook, Koochiching and northern St. Louis counties.