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Minnesota Roundup: Brush fires, School takes Obama name, Ash borer spreads etc.

Brush fires: High winds and dry conditions helped spark several fires in Minnesota on Wednesday. Fire crews used a plane to drop water on a grass fire south of Brainerd. That fire was contained to about 1 1/2 acres before the air tanker was calle...

Brush fires: High winds and dry conditions helped spark several fires in Minnesota on Wednesday.

Fire crews used a plane to drop water on a grass fire south of Brainerd. That fire was contained to about 1½ acres before the air tanker was called to a fire of similar size just west of Baxter.

A Minnesota National Guard helicopter was called in to aid in fire suppression efforts at a grass fire near Lindstrom.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday signed an executive order allowing that helicopter and one other to help the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources with firefighting.

A "red flag" fire warning was in effect for much of the state.


School gets Obama name: A St. Paul school will be renamed after President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

By a 5-1 vote, the St. Paul school board has approved renaming one of the district's elementary schools "Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary."

Students, staff and community members at Webster Magnet Elementary voted earlier this month to change the school's name.

School board member Tom Goldstein said the students were "inspired by Barack Obama."

Tom Conlon, the board's lone Republican, opposed the change. Conlon said the school's history "is being taken away from them."

Ash borers spread: Experts are finding more evidence of emerald ash borers in the Twin Cities.

State tree and insect experts began fanning out along the Minneapolis and St. Paul border Tuesday. They found several more infested trees within a 2-mile radius of last week's discovery of the tree pest in St. Paul.

It was the first day of systematic searching for ash borers, which could threaten Minnesota's 900 million ash trees.


Workers from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota Extension Service looked for evidence of the ash borer.

The ash borer has devastated forests in Michigan and Ohio. It's believed the insect arrived in the United States in packing crates from China.

Record heat: Summer came early to Minnesota.

The Twin Cities hit a record 97 degrees Tuesday as hot weather pushed across southern and central Minnesota.

Jim Taggart, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said Tuesday's 97 reading broke the old Twin Cities record for that date of 89 in 1977 and 1978.

Assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay said it's the highest temperature recorded in the Twin Cities so early in the season. The previous first date of a temperature of 97 or above was May 22, 1925.

Granite Falls reached 100 while Redwood Falls topped out at 99. Along the North Shore, Grand Marais reached only 34 degrees at 4 p.m.

Cooler air statewide Thursday will push highs down to the upper 50s north to around 70 south.


Archbishop burglary: A judge will decide how much a man owes in restitution for burglarizing the private home of Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt.

Kelvin Smalls owes the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis anywhere from $1,000 to $27,000.

Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North said he'll rule on the exact amount of restitution in a few days. He gave Smalls a 28-month sentence, which he stayed for 10 years. The judge gave Smalls credit for the 74 days he has spent in custody.

The judge received a letter from the archdiocese that said the archbishop forgives Smalls.

The stolen items included rings and crosses.

Smalls pleaded guilty in April. A pre-sentence investigation report says Smalls said he threw away most of the stolen items.

Gang cops audit: Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion said he will ask an advisory board to suspend the Metro Gang Strike Force to deal with financial management problems.

Campion said he informed 13 Twin Cities police agencies whose officers work for the unit that the state will stop their funding starting in 30 days while the Department of Public Safety works with the unit's new commander to clean up the problems.


The legislative auditor released a report showing a lack of financial oversight at the unit that polices Twin Cities gang activity, including $18,000 in seized cash and 14 vehicles that couldn't be accounted for.

The audit also said procedure wasn't followed when six officers went to a law enforcement conference in Hawaii earlier this year.

Campion said he plans to hire a former federal prosecutor and retired FBI agent to investigate. He made the announcement during a legislative hearing on the audit. He said he will ask the unit's advisory board to make the monthlong suspension formal Wednesday.

Campion said he doesn't aim to shut down the Metro Gang Strike Force permanently and expects it to be back up and running better after what he expects will be a 30-day suspension.

Officer put on leave: Another member of the Gaylord Police Department is on paid administrative leave in an alleged "bugging" scheme.

The Gaylord City Council has voted unanimously to place Officer Tom Webster on leave until further notice. The move stems from charges filed against Gaylord Police Chief Dale Roiger over allegations that he had Webster plant a recording device in the Gaylord Chamber of Commerce office two years ago.

It allegedly happened in July 2007 when the council was considering contracting with the Sibley County sheriff's office for police services.

No charges have been filed against Webster, but he will be on leave while an internal investigation is completed.


Webster called the investigation "just a formality."

Wind warnings: The National Weather Service was warning drivers in southern Minnesota that wind-blown dust has reduced visibility to less than two miles in places.

It said south winds were blowing steadily with gusts of more than 50 mph, picking up dirt and dust from farm fields and other open areas. Those winds were also snapping off tree branches.

It was expected to last through Wednesday evening.

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