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Grass fire temporarily shuts down portion of Highway 2 near Mentor, Minnesota

Officers on Monday directed traffic away from the area due to poor visibility. It's the second fire in as many days in the immediate Greater Grand Forks region, as high winds and dry temperatures

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A Crookston firefighter looks at billowing clouds of smoke to the east as a large grass fire burns between Crookston and Mentor, Minn., Monday afternoon. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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A large grass fire shut down portions of Highway 2 near Mentor, Minn., on Monday, accentuating concern of fire danger in both Minnesota and North Dakota amid dry conditions and high winds.

As of Monday afternoon, the affected area included a stretch of Highway 2 from Minnesota Highway 32 to County Highway 10. The area is approximately three miles west of Mentor, or approximately 20 miles east of Crookston.

Officers on Monday directed traffic away from the area, Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow said, due to low visibility in the area as the grass fire approached the highway. The highway stretch was closed as of 3:30 p.m. as fire crews worked on the blaze, but reopened later.

Local fire departments could not be reached while the fire was active Monday afternoon, and officers from the Polk County Sheriff's Office were unavailable to comment. Grabow said he was unsure of the fire's origin.

A farm owned by Tom Bradford had 200 bales of hay still burning from the fire well into the night. Bradford, who is a game warden, returned to the farm to help firefighters protect his property, even helping to operate the hose for a time.

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"The heat was incredible," Bradford said. "Then one of the firefighters said, 'Hey, get out of there. You're going to be overwhelmed.'"

Other than the bales of hay and some machinery, Bradford's buildings were saved, along with his 50 head of cattle.

Firefighters working both on the ground and in the air were battling the 500-acre fire, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids, Minn., said.

As of 3:15 p.m. Monday, seven aircraft were responding to the blaze, said Leanne Langeberg, public information officer with the fire center. The number of personnel and agencies battling the grass fire on the ground wasn’t immediately available, Langeberg said.

“Right now, I don’t have a lot of detail other than it’s about 500 acres of grass,” she said. “It’s a high fire danger day with Red Flag Warnings, so firefighters are responding quickly and using aircraft that is available.”

The grass fire near Mentor was the latest in a busy day for firefighting crews in northwest Minnesota. Earlier, Langeberg said, the aircraft were battling a grass fire northeast of Hayes Lake State Park in Roseau County that grew from 10 acres to 60 acres.

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Travelers were advised to monitor road conditions on the state's 511 website at 511mn.org.

It was at least the second prairie fire in as many days in the Greater Grand Forks region after crews on Sunday battled a fire near Grand Forks International Airport. Monday also brought burn bans throughout the region, as dry conditions continued and as wind speeds picked up.

In Grand Forks County, a temporary burn ban was announced. The ban, which includes the city of Grand Forks and is effective immediately, extends to recreational fires, and people burning items for the purposes of disposing of them. Under the ban, trees, grass leaves and ditches may not be burned, and people must make sure to dispose of cigarette butts and other smoking devices in designated collection sites.

The ban was enacted by Grand Forks County Sheriff Andy Schneider and the county Board of Commissioners, due to several conditions that increase the risk of fire. Those conditions include temperature, wind, the lack of ground moisture and the amount of dry vegetation.

“The Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office, along with all rural Grand Forks County Fire Departments, have been responding to several fires that have gotten out of control,” read a portion of the news release announcing the ban.

Violating the ban carries the punishment of a Class B misdemeanor, which carries the penalty of up to 30 days in jail, and a $1,500 fine per incident, in addition to fire suppression costs.

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The state fire burn ban and restrictions map can be located at www.ndresponse.gov/burn-ban-restrictions-fire-danger-maps .

The National Weather Service in Grand Forks on Monday issued a Red Flag Warning for every eastern county in North Dakota along the Red River Valley. The warning is in effect until 1 a.m. on Tuesday. Red Flag Warnings are issued when there are critical weather conditions, including high winds and low humidity, that can lead to “extreme fire behavior.” Under the weather conditions, any fire could easily spread and become difficult to control. The same warning is in effect for much of Minnesota.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department also is encouraging people to be aware of fire risks. The risk of wildfire increases in the spring, as people look to get outdoors. The department is encouraging people to follow the daily rural fire danger index, issued by the National Weather Service, to alert the public to weather conditions that make it easy for accidental fires to spread. Current fire indexes can be found here, or at NDResponse.gov .

The dry conditions are to blame for the Sunday fire near the Grand Forks airport, which burned about 250 acres. Departments from Emerado, Manvel and Gilby responded to the blaze, starting at approximately 3:30 p.m. A total of 10 vehicles responded to the fire, including three ATVs. The fire was extinguished in about three hours.

According to Lt. Cordy Meyer of the Emerado Volunteer Fire Department, the fire approached a few homes, but crews were able to contain it and prevent any property damage. Meyer told the Herald the fire was caused by people using firearms in the area.

“It was actually just a couple of people out doing target shooting, and it was just the hot ammo,” Meyer said.

Related Topics: FIRES
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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