Fireworks, campfires pose danger to tinder-dry northern Minnesota

Fireworks awe a huge crowd at Music in Plymouth in 2010.
Nicole Oran | MPR News 2010

While some of the state has seen rain in recent weeks, drought conditions and fire danger are expected to remain high in certain parts of the state. With dry weather ahead, forestry and fire officials are warning people to be careful and avoid lighting fireworks and campfires in parts of northern Minnesota.

"You just have the wrong wind and it can throw embers or sparks into a dry area and those fires will take off,” said Justin Sherwood, Bemidji’s fire chief. “And so we're asking the public, please — I know it's an inconvenience — but please refrain from using fireworks this year and just enjoy the show put on by the professionals."

Sherwood said the Bemidji Jaycees are putting on the local display from a barge in the middle of the downtown’s lake and have a lot of fire safety measures in place.

Just this last week, there was a fire in town caused by sparks from a car accident, and another fire caused by fireworks.

"We've been responding to quite a few fires — those related to fireworks. We had one on the northern edge of our city here, in a neighborhood, and fireworks actually burnt across the mowed lawn, damaged a person's shrubbery and landscaping and then actually took down a powerline, so it's very explosive up here,” Sherwood said.

Those dry conditions, which stretch from Minnesota’s northernmost border down to around Brainerd and west to North Dakota, pose serious risk for forest fires.

The DNR has put in burning restrictions in Beltrami, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties. The restrictions ban the use of fireworks, apart from displays by municipalities, burning permits and campfires, unless they are in fire rings.

"You really need to go all the way back to last fall to kind of track the beginning of this long dry spell we've been in. We had a dry fall, followed by an underperforming winter from a snowfall standpoint and then it has just remained dry since then," said Casey McCoy, the DNR's wildfire prevention supervisor.

McCoy says to leave the fireworks to the professionals in certain areas of the state and make sure to douse campfires well when they are done.

"It's a good time, a good year to just be aware of the little things that may not be in the front of our minds in a normal Minnesota summer that may have a different potential impact this year."

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