Fire crews make progress against wildfires, expect help from weather

Firefighter Alicia Pasquerillo ignites a "backburn" or controlled fire on the east side of Karlstad, Minn. on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. Firefighters burned the area in a controlled manner to use up any fuel that the wildfire would have otherwise consumed.
MPR Photo/Nathaniel Minor

Fire crews are making progress battling several wildfires in northwest Minnesota tonight as the temperature drops and the wind slows down, fire officials said.

Earlier in the day, some residents in the northwest Minnesota city of Karlstad were evacuated after one of the fires reached the edges of the small city of about 700 people near the Canadian border. The local nursing home, school, assisted living center and a group home, all in the southern portion of the city, were also evacuated, and the Red Cross set up a shelter in a church in Hallock, about 30 miles northwest of Karlstad.

The blaze destroyed at least six structures in the area, said fire information officer Gil Knight, reached Tuesday evening from the fire command center in Karlstad.

Click for more photos of the fire in Karlstad, Minn.

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Ground crews are continuing to work through the night to contain the blaze, he said.

"Things are starting to settle down a little bit for the evening," Knight said, referring to the fire near Karlstad. "I'm sure that there are some pockets where there's some activity going on, but we've got trained professionals out there on the line, and things are being handled as safely and as efficiently as possible."

Fire crews reopened roads in Karlstad Tuesday night but asked residents who left earlier in the day not to return until noon Wednesday, Knight said. With fewer people around, he said, it's easier for fire crews to operate.

Dry, windy conditions fueled as many as eight wildfires in northwest Minnesota, including blazes near Karlstad, Viking and Strandquist. The Minnesota National Guard sent about two dozen personnel, along with two Blackhawk helicopters, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter and a refueling tanker, to help fight the flames. Fire departments from North Dakota also assisted local fire crews.

The National Weather Service described fire conditions as "critical" and issued a red flag warning for most of western Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas.

Red Lake fire crew
A Red Lake fire crew works to suppress a small grass fire in a residential neighborhood on the south side of the reservation. Tribal natural resource officials say three other fires, some near residential areas, were contained and were being monitored on Tuesday.
MPR photo/Tom Robertson

A fire near the city of Viking destroyed four out-buildings and led to the evacuation of some homes near the city, according to a statement released Thursday night by the Minnesota Incident Command System.

Roxanne Dunrud, who lives near Viking, said her family removed photographs and other irreplaceable items from their home. "Wonderful neighbors and wonderful fire departments from all over the area are here and saving houses," she said.

Crews battled and managed to contain three fires on the Red Lake Indian reservation earlier in the day. A separate blaze broke out south of the town of Red Lake and came close to several houses, but ground crews stopped it with assistance from a tanker crew.

(MPR reporters Dan Gunderson, Curtis Gilbert and Jess Mador contributed to this report)