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Students, Minnesota National Guard converge on Fisher to battle rising waters

A sandbag line stretching for nearly the length of a football field formed on the northwest side of the town of 503 residents Monday morning.

Crookston sandbagging
Minnesota National Guard Staff Sgt. Alyssa Graham, of St. Cloud, and Fisher resident Brandon Nielson, right, distribute sandbags down the line Monday, April 25, 2022, in Fisher, Minnesota. The Red Lake River was creeping up a dike as volunteers worked to bolster the town’s flood defense systems.
Korrie Wenzel / Grand Forks Herald
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FISHER, Minn. — Residents of Fisher, dozens of students from Fisher and East Grand Forks and soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard converged on the Polk County community on Monday to fight the rising waters of the Red Lake River.

A sandbag line stretching for nearly the length of a football field formed on the northwest side of the town of 503 residents Monday morning. They were working in muddy, slick conditions in a stiff breeze and temperatures in the low 20s.

The river, after storms that dumped more than 3 inches of rain on the area over the weekend, was at 42.27 feet at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Flood stage at the town is not readily available on the NWS website, but the river has risen about 17 feet since Friday afternoon.

“The river has reached the highest it’s been,” said Fisher Mayor Emily Tinkham, standing on an earthen dike Monday morning that was just above water level. “They built this dike in 1997 thinking we would never have to sandbag again. At the rate it’s going, if we didn’t sandbag it would probably spill over and take out quite a few houses.”

Approximately 120 were working the sandbag line Monday morning.


Fisher Public Works Director Chuck Getsman said pumps were running all of Sunday, but around 3 a.m. on Monday, the town experienced a two- to three-foot surge.

The National Guard, activated in Crookston, Minnesota to help with flood efforts on Sunday afternoon, was notified of the need for support in Fisher early on Monday morning, said Cpt. Ryan Graem, of the 134th Brigade Support Battalion from Camp Ripley.

“We sent a total of 19 personnel and we’ve been rotating them between Fisher and here, so right now we have dedicated teams set up to pull sandbags and load them onto vehicles, and then those are being sent to Fisher,” he said.

National Guard flooding
Minnesota National Guard trucks maneuver on a flooded street near the Red Lake River Monday, April 25, 2022.
Korrie Wenzel / Grand Forks Herald

Tinkham notified East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander of the need for help, and East Grand Forks Senior High School sent a bus of around 60 students. Principal Brian Loer, who came with the students to Fisher, said he expected only 15 or 20 students to volunteer.

“They didn’t go through this back in the day in -97, but I did,” he said. “It’s nice to see that our kids are very cooperative and very respectful, and just good to see that they are willing to volunteer to take time out of their day.”

By Monday afternoon, thousands more sandbags had been laid by volunteers. Tinkham said the National Guard brought six more trucks of sandbags after the initial load, a Polk County crew brought two truckloads and some citizens brought loads of sandbags with their personal vehicles.

As of Monday afternoon, sandbagging efforts were paused, but water levels were still rising.

“Right now it is going to be a waiting game,” said Tinkham. “We just need to watch the water level, hope the sandbags we have placed are high enough and hold, but if it starts to rise too much, we have more that we can throw on.”


"One of the old things we used to say is the lake is not a bathtub, it doesn't just lay at one level," said Pete Boulay, a climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "What I always point out, when people complain that (water levels) have never been this low, just go back farther and you'll find lower water than you have right now."

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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