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Wildfire Evacuees Being Allowed To Return To Karlstad

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Gallery: Karlstad Wildfire

KARLSTAD, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — After fleeing the fast moving flames Tuesday, residents in tiny town Karlstad, Minn., are being allowed back into town on Wednesday.

Gil Knight, a fire information officer, said the sheriff is recommending residents wait until after the noon hour to come back. Some, however, are returning to charred rubble.

“We’re looking at the loss of four residences, seven mobile homes, two garages and 22 out-buildings,” Knight said. “The great thing is, is that there were no injuries.”

The Britten family lost their home, but they were able to get out a few photo albums and bank documents before the flames overtook everything.

“Once the winds switched, it went up pretty fast,” Kathy Britten said. “We drove out of the driveway and about 10 minutes later, we couldn’t see the house.”

Britten is staying with her cousin whose house was spared. She and her husband plan to rebuild, but they say it’s going to be a long winter.

“Lots of people have offered help,” Britten said. “It’s nice to live in a small town when things like this happen.”

One man, who lives down the road from the Brittens, also lost his home and was too distraught to talk before WCCO-TV’s cameras. In his lawn, one could see the charred remains of classic cars. He said his family settled in Karlstad in 1880.

Conditions Wednesday are much improved to fight the fire, which is one of eight burning in northwestern Minnesota, Knight said.

NewsRadio 830 WCCO’s Adam Carter Reports

“The winds (have) dropped significantly,” Knight said. “In some cases, the fire may turn back on itself, and burn back into the black, which is great.”

A snowstorm is even possible in the region, which could bring several inches of snow on Thursday.  Knight said that presents its own set of challenges.

“One day it’s too hot, the next day it’s too cold. Firefighting in northern Minnesota.”

State Fire Marshal Bruce Roed said the fire was 95 percent contained Wednesday morning and had not grown since Tuesday night. About 400 people returned to their homes, he said. The fire burned about 12 square miles to the south, east and west of the city after it flared up Tuesday afternoon, but there were no injuries.

It was one of eight fires in northwestern Minnesota aggravated by extremely dry vegetation, low humidity and high winds Tuesday. The area has been in drought most of the year.

Authorities evacuated 69 residents of Karlstad’s nursing home and assisted living center, and also evacuated the city’s K-12 school as the fire blanketed the community in thick smoke Tuesday afternoon. Fire departments from all over the surrounding area sent crews to help, and Goad said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources sent engines that took the night shift.

The Minnesota National Guard was expected to send a third Blackhawk helicopter Wednesday to join two Blackhawks and one Chinook helicopter already deployed on fire duty, Goad said. The big military helicopters have been helpful because conditions were too windy for smaller aircraft, she said. Fire managers planned to fly over the area with infrared equipment to detect any remaining hot spots, she said.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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