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Huge wildfires drawing Minnesota crews west, sending smoke east

Sep 04, 2017 05:30AM ● Published by Editor

Firefighters work to contain a fire burning near Finlay Creek, which is about seven kilometres from Peachland, B.C. (B.C. Wildfire Service.)

By John Myers from the Duluth News Tribune - Sep 1, 2017 

Fires from western states and provinces are sending smoke east into northern Minnesota and crews from northern Minnesota are heading west to fight fires.

More than 250 Minnesotans are out west, most in 20-person crews, many of them state, tribal or federal agency employees well trained to battle wildfires when needed.

The 10th Minnesota crew to head west left Thursday, said Christi Powers, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids. The need for firefighters out west is so dire that the Minnesota crews are being asked to extend their usual 14-day assignments to 21 days, Powers said.

The fires are in idaho, Washington, Montana, Manitoba, British Columbia and Alberta. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise reports more than 70 large, active burning across nearly 1 million acres.

Smoke form those fires spurred the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Friday to issue an air quality alert for much of north central, west-central and southwestern Minnesota in effect into Saturday.
As nearly daily showers soak the Northland and hurricanes deluge the Gulf Coast, a huge swath of the northern Great Plains is in severe drought - from northwestern Minnesota across the Dakotas to nearly the West Coast - with little rain since spring. 

The fire danger is severe in the western states but is heading into the dangerous level in northwestern Minnesota as well, Powers said. That could lead to problems over the long Labor Day weekend, with many people camping and playing outdoors. Sparks from chainsaws and ATV’s as well as careless smokers and unwatched campfires can trigger wildfires that easily spread in such dry conditions.

“Northwestern Minnesota currently has extreme fire danger,’’ Powers said. There’s been “little to no precipitation in that in that area for weeks. Fire managers are concerned about outdoor recreation and the possibility of human-caused wildfires.”
Light rain was expected in parts of northern Minnesota Friday night but not enough to quell the drought.

The same crews that are out west fighting fires would otherwise likely be headed to Texas to help in flood recovery efforts. But Minnesota’s Incident Command System so far has sent no organized crews to help with Harvey. During past hurricane efforts, the state has sent teams of DNR conservation officers to operate air boats as well as full, 20 person agency crews and incident command teams.

The Minnesota State Patrol also said none of their officers were as yet headed to flood relief. But it was announced Friday that 11 members of the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Combat Aviation Brigade departed from St. Cloud on two Chinook helicopters that will be used in disaster response operations in Texas.
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