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Assistant Fire Chief: Fire No Longer Advancing On Karlstad

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KARLSTAD, Minn. (AP) — Firefighters have contained a wildfire that destroyed about a half-dozen homes and forced evacuations Tuesday in the far northwestern Minnesota town of Karlstad, a fire official said, while dry and windy conditions helped ignite several other blazes in the region.

The fire was no longer advancing on Karlstad, Assistant Fire Chief Sam Grandstrand said Tuesday evening.

“Things are under some control,” Grandstrand told The Associated Press. “We’re in better shape.”

Grandstrand estimated about half of the town of 750 was evacuated. He said the evacuations will continue for now.

The wildfire burned about 12 square miles and destroyed six to eight homes in the Karlstad area, said spokeswoman Jean Goad of the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. No deaths or injuries were reported, she said.

Authorities evacuated Karlstad’s nursing home, school, assisted living center and a group home as the fire blanketed the community in thick smoke, City Clerk Sue Dufault said. People were being evacuated to Hallock, the Kittson County seat, about 20 miles to the northwest, she said.

“All around the city is on fire,” Dufault said. “The winds are unbelievable today.”

Emily Straw, executive director of the Karlstad Health Care Center nursing home and assisted living center, said all 69 residents were evacuated as the fire bore down on the community.

“We could see the flames, 8 feet high, from the nursing home,” Straw said.

Residents were taken to the First Lutheran Church several blocks away because it was away from the smoke, she said. From there, staffers were able to place all the residents in either other area nursing homes or with relatives. She said buses were coming in from neighboring communities to help move the residents.

“Everybody is doing very well,” Straw said. “Staff has been wonderful. Residents have been wonderful. The surrounding communities have been phenomenal.”

City officials were not immediately able to give total figures for evacuations.

State Rep. Dan Fabian, of Roseau, was driving through when he stopped to lend a hand. Firefighters from nearby towns were on the scene, and different parts of Karlstad were being evacuated as winds shifted, he said.

“They’re trying to get their hands around it,” Fabian said. “The problem is, we’re fighting fires all over northwestern Minnesota right now. … Resources are thin.”

Authorities ordered the evacuation when the fire reached a “trigger point” near Karlstad, Goad said. Authorities dispatched water-dropping aircraft to try to keep the fire out of the community, she said.

“They’ve been hitting it hard with a mud tanker, which is a tanker that uses retardant, and they think they’ve got that flank under control for now. That could change because the conditions up there are just incredible,” Goad said.

The Minnesota National Guard sent two Blackhawk helicopters, and Goad said a Chinook helicopter was on its way.

Fire departments from as far away as Grand Forks, N.D., joined in the fight, Dufault said.

The weather conditions in Hallock were 72 degrees with a relative humidity of just 19 percent and winds from the southwest of 35 mph gusting to 43 mph, Goad said. The National Weather Service described fire conditions as “critical” and issued a red flag warning for most of western Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas.

“So anything that’s getting going now is going to move quickly,” Goad said.

Crews were already fighting eight fires in northwestern Minnesota as of Tuesday morning, Goad said, and the number was growing.

“We’ve seen multiple starts today in different areas around there,” Goad said. She said four outbuildings were lost near the city of Viking, and a couple of homes outside of town were evacuated.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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