By Jeff Wagner

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (WCCO) – A field fire spread Sunday across an estimated 180 acres of land in St. Cloud, just south of the prison along Highway 301.

Winds gusting up to 30 miles per hour and dry conditions allowed the fire to grow.

A fire warning for a large portion of the state was issued Sunday morning.

St. Cloud firefighters said the 911 call came in around 2:30 p.m. from someone living at a nearby apartment complex.

“We’ve been planning for it and actually expecting it,” said Battalion Chief Leon Faust. “Certainly, we have not had green up yet this spring.”

The fire scorched grass and corn fields while reducing some trees to ash.

Much of the land burned is owned by the Department of Corrections, with part of it being a cross-country ski trail.

Crews soaked piles of logs still smoldering on the property while some trees burned from the inside out. Chopping them down was at times their only option.

“We’d be getting areas that were knocked down, the winds would push (the fire) again. So we’re fighting the winds,” Faust said.

But crews also had the wind to thank for directing the fire away from neighboring apartments off 20th Avenue Southeast.

Cosetta Roundtree lives there and said when she first saw the flames she thought firefighters were conducting a controlled burn.

Hearing they were on scene to stop it, not start it, surprised her.

“Scary because there’s kids here,” she said. “I live here and then if it would have spread here, we would have been evacuated and had nowhere to go.”

With the fire no longer endangering people, crews from five departments and the DNR spent several hours covering lots of ground to contain it.

Nobody was hurt, but investigators hope this serves as a reminder for people to take fire warnings seriously.

“Those are some of the things that maybe are overlooked…something as simple as a discarded cigarette,” Faust said.

He added that once investigators figure out where the fire started they can then determine a cause.

Putting out hotspots and keeping the fire in control was the main priority Sunday evening, as dry conditions were again in the forecast Monday.

Fire departments from St. Cloud, St. Augusta, Sauk Rapids, Sartell, and Waite Park responded to the call.

Faust said 17 firefighters came from St. Cloud, with an additional 35 firefighters from the other departments.

The prison regularly patrols the area where the fire happened, so their staff will be keeping an eye on the field to see if fires start up again overnight.

Investigators will be back out there Monday morning.

Jeff Wagner