Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What a Red Flag Warning means for Minnesota farmers October 4, 2011

Farmers are in the fields harvesting corn (pictured here) and soybeans under extremely dry conditions.

WHEN I HEARD about the National Weather Service’s “Red Flag Warning” for west central and south central Minnesota Monday evening, it was the first time I had heard that terminology.

What does it mean?

Here’s the definition, direct from the NWS:

A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS THAT CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW…OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF STRONG WINDS…LOW RELATIVE HUMIDTY…AND WARM TEMPERATURES WILL CREATE EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL.

That’s a strongly-worded warning for those folks living in the communities and rural areas along and west of a line from Alexandria to Fairmont.

Farmers, especially, have to be worried about the fire danger given they are in the middle of harvesting corn and soybeans in tinder dry fields. Mix dry plant material, strong winds and the heat of a combine exhaust, for example, and you have the potential for a devastating fire.

Michael, a southwestern Minnesota farmer who blogs at Minnesota Farmer, writes two days ago about fires he spotted last Thursday while combining beans. Click here to read his October 2 post which explains how blazes start and the resulting, devastating financial impact on farmers.

It’s all too easy for those of us who live in town, even if we grew up on a farm, to forget about the dangers that come with harvest. And this year, the fire danger is particularly high.

The Red Flag Warning remains in effect until 7 p.m. Wednesday.

DO YOU LIVE in the Red Flag Warning area? If so, has there been an increase in the number of fires recently? Please submit a comment and share.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another fire in my Faribault neighborhood September 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:49 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

THERE’S BEEN ANOTHER fire in my neighborhood, this one two blocks away instead of directly across the street.

And this one happened at 1 a.m. in a vacant, foreclosed house in the 700 block of Willow Street instead of in the late afternoon in an occupied dwelling. (Click here to read about the September 10 fire at my neighbor’s house.)

This time I didn’t race to the scene, allow I certainly could have. The contingent of fire and police vehicles, with sirens screaming, woke me with a jolt early this morning. Typically I don’t think much of sirens in the middle of the night. Living along a busy street, I hear them all too often.

But when multiple emergency vehicles just keep racing by and sirens shut off near my home, I take note.

So I pulled myself out of bed, grabbed my glasses, peered out the window, failed to see anything and slid back under the covers.

At 1:19 a.m., when another fire truck—this time the ladder truck—roared past, I slipped barefoot out the front door, descended the steps to the end of the sidewalk and peered down the street toward emergency lights flashing in the blackness of the night.

I couldn’t see flames, didn’t smell smoke. But, still, I pondered whether I should change into street clothes, grab my camera and go.

I didn’t. While I’m a blogger, I’m no longer a newspaper reporter and photographer. My days of chasing fire trucks ended decades ago. Yet, that urge, that desire, that curiosity, remain.

I crawled back into bed, wide awake, the adrenaline still pumping, wondering how my husband could seem so disinterested in the drama unfolding nearby. He’s calm like that and able to shut out distractions once his head hits the pillow. He wanted to sleep.

Me? Surprisingly, I fell asleep relatively easily. But I slept fitfully, dreamed about firemen and police and a tarp covering bodies on a flat bed trailer.

And when I awoke six hours later, contacted the editor of The Faribault Daily News about the fire and read the story posted online around noon, I was relieved to know that my nightmare was only that, a nightmare, with no truth to it.

Click here to read The Daily News article.

Then click here to read The Daily News article about a fire at the same house during the early morning hours of May 19. That first suspicious fire caused only minimal damage to the home, owned by Wells Fargo.

Compare the two photos in the separate stories. You’ll see significantly more damage done during the second fire.

It’s pretty clear to me that someone is determined to burn down this house.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The neighbor’s house is on fire!” September 10, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:55 PM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

TED FROM OWATONNA, you are our Willow Street neighborhood hero. This afternoon you saved my neighbor’s house from what could have been a devastating fire. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

You were in a hurry to leave after you put out the fire on Kristin and Kevin’s deck with a garden hose around 4 p.m. today. You didn’t give me your last name—I was the one with the camera, the across-the-street-neighbor.

I am forever grateful to you for noticing the flames (as you drove by with your family), stopping, grabbing a garden hose, banging on the house and yelling for my neighbors to “Get out!”

This is a view from my yard looking directly across the street at Kevin and Kristin's house on the corner of Tower Place and Willow Street. The fire was extinguished before firefighters arrived.

I did not get many actual fire photos as I was more focused on making sure my neighbors were out of the house than in photographing the scene. But here you see wood chips burning under the deck.

Ted from Owatonna uses water from a garden hose to put out the deck fire.

That's my neighbor Kristin on the right, with Ted still working to assure the fire is out.

You deserve an award, Ted. Faribault firefighter Joel Hansen says the fire department gives awards for efforts like yours. I expect you wouldn’t want one. But you need to be recognized and publicly thanked.

If not for your quick action, I am convinced the fire would have caused severe damage to Kristin and Kevin’s home.

By the time my 17-year-old son noticed the flames (which was almost immediately) and hollered, “The neighbor’s house is on fire!” you were already there grabbing the hose.

Flames were shooting from under and around the deck in the mere seconds it took for my husband and me to race across Tower Place. I didn’t even slip on shoes, just grabbed my camera and ran.

All I could think of was that my neighbors were in their house; their car was in the driveway. I screamed, “Kevin, Kristin, get out of the house!” Several times.

My eyes focused on those flames blocking the front door. The flames that kept shooting up until Ted extinguished them with water from that garden hose.

Then Kristin and her daughter, Kaylee, rounded the corner from the garage, having safely exited through a back door.

Kristin told me she heard the banging, but, because some neighborhood kids have been banging on her house recently, didn’t think much of it. But then she got up to check, saw the fire and got out. Her husband and son were not home.

I am relieved, thankful, grateful that the fire was contained to the deck area, that it did not happen at night, that my neighbors got safely out. The deck and siding are damaged. That is minor compared to what could have been.

The fire damaged the deck and siding.

Faribault firefighter Joel Hansen continued spraying down the area after Ted left.

It could have been worse, much worse, if not for the quick actions of Ted from Owatonna.

If anyone knows the identity of Ted, please submit a comment and I will pass this information along to the Faribault Fire Department. My husband also got Ted’s license plate number, so we are confident that officials can track him down that way. We want Ted to get the public recognition he deserves.

Today, Ted, let me give you your first public, “Thank you!”

Readers, if you would also like to comment on Ted’s actions, I welcome you to do so.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling