Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire April 6, 2012

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MY SWEATSHIRT REEKS of smoke, as if I’ve been sitting around a campfire for hours.

But in reality, I’ve only stepped into my backyard for several minutes, into the strong scent of smoke drifting from across the street a few houses away.

Honestly, I could not believe my eyes. Who, in their right mind, would burn leaves in tinder dry conditions like this? Apparently my neighbor.

Only an hour ago, I heard a local radio broadcaster announce a burning ban issued by the sheriff in Rice County. Given the dry conditions, only recreational campfires and grilling are allowed.

Recreational campfires like this one are still allowed. I gathered with extended family around this campfire in Waseca on March 24. This photo is for illustration purposes only.

The National Weather Service has issued a “red flag warning” for the western half of Minnesota from the northern to southern borders. Gusty winds and low relative humidity in an already dry landscape are creating “critical fire weather conditions,” according to the NWS.

Heed the warning, Minnesotans. Use common sense. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a warning from the NWS or a directive from the sheriff to tell you that burning leaves, or anything else for that matter, today or anytime soon would be a very bad idea.

I kept expecting to hear the wail of fire trucks racing to my neighbor’s house. I live along a heavily-traveled street. It’s happened before that a passerby has called the fire department when a neighbor has been burning leaves.

HAVE YOU HAD any fires in your neighborhood today or recently? If so, send me a report via a comment.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Field fires aplenty in Minnesota’s Red Flag areas October 6, 2011

A farm site between Morgan and Redwood Falls in southwestern Minnesota, where field conditions are dry and the fire danger high.

DRY, WINDY CONDITIONS persist in much of Minnesota creating ideal conditions for fire.

Unless you’ve had your head buried inside, you understand the danger and the reason for the National Weather Service’s Red Flag Warning that covers central and southern Minnesota.

Today would not be the day to build a campfire, have a bonfire or toss a cigarette butt out the car window (like you should any day). Burning bans are in effect throughout the state.

If forecasters are correct, these weather conditions will continue for awhile.

That all said, I wondered if my nephew, a kindergarten teacher and Westbrook volunteer firefighter, has been battling any blazes in his region of southwestern Minnesota.

Adam checked in with me early this morning:

Fires—we have had quite a few around here. Westbrook has had two; Dovray, two; and Walnut Grove, for sure three, all in the past week. It’s very dry and with the wind, it doesn’t take much to create a big fire. Many of the calls are mutual aid—helping neighboring towns with fires, but that’s how we do things here. All of them have been combines and fields. I haven’t made it to many of them as I could not get out of school at the time. But I made it to one on Sunday.

A story in today’s The Cottonwood County Citizen about a county-wide burning ban confirms Adam’s summary:

These burning bans come in the wake of at least a half-dozen fires that occurred around the county, most of which involved the harvest. Extremely dry conditions, low humidity and high winds have increased the potential for major fires.

I found an article in last Thursday’s Jackson County Pilot headlined “Combine fire sparks massive field blaze.” The story went on to say that a combine fire, fueled by 40 mph winds, quickly spread into a field. Fire crews from numerous departments in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa were called to the scene.

The Faribault Daily News today reports a Monday afternoon fire in the Lonsdale-Montgomery area that burned five acres of hay, 30 acres of swamp and 30 – 50 acres of corn.

Another blaze, this one on Wednesday afternoon in a soybean field northwest of Luverne, is reported in The Rock County Star Herald. In that case, farmers disked strips of black dirt to help contain the fire.

It’s a dangerous situation out there right now, especially for farmers bringing in the harvest in those dry, dry fields.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE to report on fires in your area, submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 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