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With Kittson County wildfire 95% contained, regional fire threat is far from over

The 1,930-acre wildfire north of Lancaster, Minn., was 95% contained as of Wednesday morning, Oct. 6. Officials are urging people to continue exercising extreme caution as the long, dangerous fire season stretches on.

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A 1,930-acre wildfire north of Lancaster, Minn., was 95% contained as of Wednesday morning, Oct. 6, 2021. // Contributed photo

Lancaster Fire Chief Casey Faken smelled the wildfire before he saw it. He was working at a construction site east of Lancaster Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 5, when he noticed the smoke. When he went searching for the source, he saw the massive plume of smoke rising in the distance.

Fire crews were called shortly after at 4:40 p.m., after the National Weather Service in Grand Forks spotted the raging fire on its radar and alerted local officials.

It's unclear how long the 1,930-acre wildfire had been burning before crews arrived, but Faken said that strong winds and a close call with two barns made the fire a frightening one. By Wednesday morning, however, about 30 state and local firefighters had contained the fire about 95%.

"It could have been bad," he said. "There were farms and stuff on each right, left side of the flank, so some of that, you know, it's kind of dangerous. You never know how the fire pushes, and if it would have jumped our County Road 4 it would have went all the way to the border for sure."

They got lucky with this fire, Faken said. The Hallock area has largely escaped the impacts of the dangerous fire season that has lasted since the spring, but despite recent rains, the danger is far from over.

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This fire season has been an unusual one, said Grand Forks NWS meteorologist Jennifer Ritterling.

Normally, the region has a two-part fire season: the first comes after the snow melts in the spring and the dead winter vegetation dries out before spring gets into full spring. Usually, the fire threat dies down as green returns to the region, with a second fire season starting in the fall after the first freeze but before the first snow.

This year, however, dry conditions robbed the region of that summer respite, resulting in a single long, dangerous fire season.

It's not clear yet if this season is a fluke, or a part of a longer drying trend. Ritterling recalled the last extreme dry year was in 2012, while last year was one of the wettest years on record.

"We do get dry years periodically," she said. "Time only tell if that’s a long range shift, or just a one-off and we’ll be back to wetter-than-average years."

Recent rains have helped a little, she said, and a wetter upcoming weekend will likely help even more, but she said that soaring temperatures, low humidity and breezy conditions until then mean that the fire danger is still high for now.

"Any time someone throws a cigarette out the window, it may be a mess," she said.

The cause of the wildfire north of Lancaster remains under investigation, but a cigarette butt flicked to the side of the road is a likely culprit, Faken said.

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As fire crews began work to assess the damage of Tuesday's fire, he said mostly vegetation was damaged on a combination of state and privately-owned lands. On Wednesday morning, he said the landowner also began surveying a fence that had been burned that would likely need repairs.

He said they're thankful there were no injuries or significant damage reported in this fire, but urged residents to continue exercising extreme caution.

"Put the matches away," he said.

Related Topics: FIRES
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