Wildfire near Park Rapids surrounded; residents may soon return to homes

Marlene Snyder
Marlene Snyder stands outside her home about six miles northwest of Menahga, Minn. that was heavily damaged in a wildfire.
MPR Photo/Tom Robertson

Firefighting officials believe they have a wildfire surrounded near Park Rapids and hope to start mop-up operations today.

The fire is 65 percent contained, according to the Minnesota Incident Command System, and all evacuations and road closures in the area of the Green Valley Fire have been lifted. On Friday, a helicopter with heat-sensing equipment will search for areas that could flare up. Weather should favor firefighters: rain and cooler temperatures are in the forecast.

Jim Hinds, deputy incident commander at the scene, says residents will be allowed back into the area after local fire departments have checked burned areas for hazards.

"They will go around to each residence, looking at the structures that have been lost, and make sure there is nothing in the rubble that would still present a danger, such as propane tanks, those types of things," he said. "That rubble is still hot, as so you would have circumstances that people could go back into an area and bad consequences could result as they start to clean things up."

The Green Valley Fire has burned about 7,100 acres, and threatened 50 homes in the area south of Park Rapids. Twelve residences, 2 commercial properties and 41 outbuildings have been destroyed, the Minnesota Incident Command System reported. Heavy smoke and firefighting efforts have closed two roads in the area.

Incident commander Mike Aultman said that wind has made the fire more difficult to fight but, forecasters think the wind will ebb today.

"Yesterday we were having 20-plus mph winds. Today we might have some gusts up to 15 mph, but overall, it's going to stay below 10 mph and I think that's going to make things easier for our crews out there," he said.

Aultman said that firefighters have established a good perimeter around the fire, and will work on putting out the fires still inside the fire line, as well as mopping up around homes and other structures inside the fire line.

He says they're also hoping for rain on Sunday and Monday.

Firefighters hosed down Marlene and Brad Snyder's home near Menahga but a spark entered the home through a vent and smoldered until it flared up into a full fire. Marlene Snyder said she and her husband were able to grab photo albums before flames engulfed the house.

"I wanted to open the closet and grab more and we just we couldn't jeopardize lives -- it wasn't worth it," Snyder said.

Afterward, almost nothing was salvageable, she said.

"We know this could have been worse. But the main thing is we have each other and we'll make it," Snyder said. "We have our faith, we'll make it."

Another damaging fire has also broken out near Sandstone. The so-called Birch Bark fire burned some buildings there yesterday, although officials say they don't have a tally yet. High fire danger is expected to continue into the weekend but the National Weather Service says northern Minnesota is likely to get rain on Saturday night.

Map: Green Valley Fire perimeter Thursday morning, May 15, 2013. (Story continues below.)

WISCONSIN BLAZE CONTAINED

Firefighters battling a 9,000-acre in northwestern Wisconsin have contained the massive blaze.

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Robert Manwell said Thursday the fire in Douglas and Bayfield counties is 100 percent contained. Manwell says fire crews will be handling small brush fires and reworking the lines that contain the wildfire.

Authorities opened all roads in the area overnight and some residents headed back to their homes. The fire, which began Tuesday, destroyed 17 homes and 30 other structures. The DNR says no one has been hurt in the largest forest fire to hit northern Wisconsin in 33 years.

Gov. Scott Walker has declared a state of emergency in Douglas and Bayfield counties, which makes the Wisconsin National Guard available for recovery efforts. The governor plans to tour the area Thursday.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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