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Wild Fires Rage In Northern Minnesota, Wisconsin

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Web Extra: Photo Gallery: Fire Near Menagha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Firefighters in Minnesota and Wisconsin are battling several wildfires that have taken over towns, destroyed numerous buildings and burned thousands of acres.

As of Tuesday night, at least 25 wildfires had broken out in Minnesota. Some of the biggest are in Red Lake, Park Rapids, Menagha, and across the border in Wisconsin. Most of the fires broke out Tuesday afternoon and in the early evening because of hot, dry and windy weather.

Menagha (Green Valley Fire)

There is a large wildfire burning north of Menahga, a community of 1,300 about three hours northwest of the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center said the blaze, dubbed the Green Valley Fire, has burned 7,100 acres since it started on private land around 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Officials said Wednesday evening that the fire has destroyed 12 residences, two commercial properties and 41 outbuildings. At risk are residential and commercial buildings,  infrastructure and commercial and recreational timber values.

The fire is 25 percent contained. Its cause is still under investigation.

No injuries have been reported.

Judy Dulski, a Menahga resident, said four houses west of hers were  destroyed. Her property also sustained damage. She lost a gazebo, a bridge and part of her roof. But she says she feels lucky.

“We’re all alive and safe,” she said. “You can replace buildings, but not people.”

Earlier on Wednesday, crews built a bulldozer line around most of the fire perimeter and attacked hot spots with water-dropping planes and helicopters. Ice on northern Minnesota lakes, however, made getting water for the fight difficult. Firefighters from more than 40 departments across the region  helped on the ground, said Jean Goad, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center.

Officials raised the size estimate of the fire to 7,100 acres from an initial 3,000 to 4,000 acres, but Goad said that was based on better data, not new growth in the fire, which has burned a path about eight miles long and 1.5 miles wide since it started.

Around 9 p.m. Tuesday, the entire town of Menahga was asked to head south to Sebeka. The Green Pine Acres Nursing Home was evacuated as a precaution and residents were taken to the Sebeka School. About 100 to 125 residents from the nursing home and other area residents spent the night there. They were allowed to return home a couple hours after breakfast Wednesday when calmer winds gave firefighters confidence the nursing home was safe, school superintendent Dave Fjeldheim told The Forum of Fargo, N.D.

However, wind gusts of up to 30 mph were fanning the flames and stirring up hot spots.

Lynette Guida was almost trapped by the flames when she tried to save equipment her husband’s custom log home business depends on.

“It’s just the most frightful thing I’ve ever been through,” she said. “It was on my left side and right side, then it jumped ahead of me.”

She wasn’t injured, but the business lost everything on its 80 acres, including rare trees that will take decades to return.

Officials say crews will work through the night Wednesday fighting the fire. On Thursday, the fire’s behavior is expected to be minimal. Winds should blow lightly from the east, the opposition direction of the last few days. This change may challenge the containment lines. Crews, however, will continue to protect structures and improve containment lines.

Gov. Mark Dayton activated the Minnesota National Guard for fire duty Tuesday to help fight fires in northern Minnesota.

Army Maj. Bruce A. Kraemer said 22 Guard soldiers were on active duty Wednesday to help fight the Menahga fire.

The DNR has rated the fire danger across a large part of Minnesota as extreme.

Park Rapids

About 12 miles north of Menahga, in Park Rapids, people have also been evacuated. Moreover, travel was difficult because smoke from  hot spots shut down Highway 71, which connects the two cities. The highway has since reopened.

At about 7 p.m. Tuesday, the wild fire near Park Rapids was 20 miles long and a half mile wide.

Red Lake

Two wildfires near Red Lake have burned more than 7,000 acres.  Rain Tuesday morning helped make those fires more controllable. The DNR said these two wildfires were caused by humans.

Wisconsin

The Wisconsin DNR said 47 structures have been destroyed by fire. Residents near Barnes, Wis., have been evacuated due to the wild fire in the area there. The DNR sent some pictures showing air tankers and scoop planes from Wisconsin and Minnesota being used to drop water on the fire.

Smoke from this fire could be seen up to 40 miles away in Duluth. The Douglas County Wildfire is now 90 to 95 percent contained.

Officials at the National Weather Service warned of the critical fire conditions Tuesday. They urge people who have campfires to keep them small, keep a water source handy and make sure the fire is completely out before leaving it.

How You Can Help

If you would like to help people affected by these fires, you can make a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief at www.redcross.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.  The Red Cross is currently helping residents in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 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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