Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Near Menahga: “The perfect recipe for a fire” May 16, 2013

It's easy to understand how fire could race through acres of pines under hot, dry and windy conditions. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Itasca State Park.

It’s easy to understand how fire could race through acres of pines under hot, dry and windy conditions. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Itasca State Park, used for illustration purposes only and not within the Green Valley Fire area.

HUNDREDS OF MILES removed from the Green Valley Fire raging in the Park Rapids/Menahga area of northwestern Minnesota, I cannot even fathom the challenges faced by firefighters, the fears experienced by residents.

My connection to the region comes via the co-editor of a literary journal, The Talking Stick, in which I’ve been published several times. Late Wednesday afternoon I emailed Sharon Harris of rural Menahga, concerned about her and extended family who live nearer Park Rapids than Menahga.

The fire came within two miles of Harris’ home and that of her mother, sister and niece. They had to evacuate their pets—cats and dogs—to a local animal clinic. Without a trailer, though, Harris’ niece had to leave her horses behind.

“We were lucky,” says Harris, who was able to return to her home and sleep overnight after evacuating her pets.

Not so fortunate were those who lost their homes—at last count 12 homes, two commercial properties and 43 outbuildings in Hubbard and Wadena counties, according to information posted at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on the Minnesota Incident Command System website.

Harris, who works in Menahga at the First National Bank of Menahga and Sebeka, says many bank customers lost their homes.

The fire, which has reportedly burned through a pine stand of 7,100 acres, is 25 percent contained, according to the most recent information posted by the MNICS Wednesday evening. Click here to read details.

Harris, off work due to a family medical situation, drove to Menahga late Wednesday evening to catch up on work. She writes:

So much smoke still in the air in the area where the wildfire jumped Highway 71. It is right around Blueberry Golf Course and the Hubbard County/Wadena County line where it crossed. I guess the golf course is okay, amazingly. So it will be Friday before I drive to Menahga in the daytime and will be able to see any damages.

She remembers well the weather conditions on Tuesday, the day the fire began around 3 p.m. and then quickly spread to the area north of Menahga. Harris says:

I have never felt such a wind that day (Tuesday). When I drove from Menahga to Park Rapids around 4 p.m. that day, the wind just buffeted my car all over the road. Crazy. The perfect recipe for a fire: so hot, so dry, and wild wind.

And, as often happens in the early, uncertain stages of a major wildfire, locals are speculating about its cause. “I heard that lightning started it. Before that, I heard that someone was doing a controlled burn and it got away from them…”

No matter the cause, the facts stand: Twelve homes destroyed. Two commercial properties gone. Forty-three outbuildings burned. Already.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Law & order in Rothsay

SMALL TOWNS, TIME AND AGAIN, draw me in to explore.

It is the unpretentious genuineness, the make-do, no-frills approach to life that appeals to me. Folks in small towns typically are not trying to impress. Rather, they are simply living their lives—being good neighbors, working hard, getting by on what they have.

I’m not saying big city residents don’t do likewise. I just think the evidence of simpler living is more visible in our rural communities.

Wilkin County Sheriff's Dept. 1

Take Rothsay, population around 500. Just look at the building which houses the Wilkin County Sheriff’s Department in Rothsay, which lies along Interstate 94 some 35 minutes southeast of Fargo.

Wilkin County Sheriff's Dept. 2

Nothing fancy about this vintage trailerhouse, apparently a satellite office for the sheriff’s department based in the county seat of Breckenridge 30 miles distant.

Wilkin County Sheriff's Dept. 3

My husband and I were, should I say, awestruck when we pulled into the downtown business district and spotted this law enforcement headquarters. We’d never seen a sheriff’s office quite like this one.

I knew I’d found a gem, another slice of small-town Minnesota worthy of preserving via a photo shoot.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more photos from Rothsay.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling