Posted at: 05/14/2013 5:23 PM
Updated at: 05/15/2013 5:37 PM
By: Scott Theisen
Firefighters were getting the upper hand Wednesday on a wildfire that destroyed several structures as it scorched about 7,100 acres in northwestern Minnesota.
Jean Goad, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, said crews were off to a good start toward containing the Green Valley Fire, which started on private land during hit windy weather Tuesday afternoon, about two miles northwest of Menahga, a community of about 1,300 people.
Crews built a bulldozer line around most of the fire perimeter and attacked hot spots with water-dropping planes and helicopters. Firefighters from more than 40 departments across the region were helping on the ground in some way, she said.
"It's pretty awesome to see people come out and work together," Goad said.
Fire managers still didn't have a count by Wednesday afternoon on how many structures were damaged. She said they'd heard the losses included some homes but didn't know how many.
One of those homes belonged to Terry Burkman's brother, Bruce, who was out of state at the time
"I never thought his house would burn because its steel sided, steel roof. Nothing close," Terry Burkman told Minnesota Public Radio. "So I was surprised. I thought that would be one house that wouldn't burn being it was all steel. But somehow, coals got into the inside, and just burnt it down. It's just a pile of scrap metal, about three, four feet high."
Officials raised the size estimate to 7,100 acres from an initial 3,000 to 4,000 acres, but Goad said that was based on better data, not new growth in the fire, which has burned a path about eight miles long and 1.5 miles wide since it started on private land. The cause remained under investigation she said, and there were no reports of injuries.
Cooler, less windy weather Wednesday gave firefighters a break, but Goad said they weren't letting down their guard.
"It's still pretty dicey fire conditions because the humidity is pretty low. It's 20 to 25 percent humidity. While it's better than a red flag day, it's still a high fire danger," Goad said.
The Green Pine Acres Nursing Home was evacuated as a precaution Tuesday night and residents were taken south to the Sebeka School. About 100 to 125 residents from nursing home and other area residents spent there. They were allowed to return home a couple hours after breakfast Wednesday when calmer winds gave firefighters confidence the nursing home was safe, school superintendent Dave Fjeldheim told The Forum of Fargo, N.D.
U.S. Highway 71 reopened between Menahga and Park Rapids, but officials warned that the smoke still obscured visibility.
Army Maj. Bruce A. Kraemer said 22 Minnesota National Guard soldiers were on active duty Wednesday to help fight the fire, including helicopter crews and support teams.
Gov. Mark Dayton activated the Guard for fire duty Tuesday to help fight fires in the Red Lake area. After those fires were contained, the Guard redirected two Blackhawk helicopters and a Chinook helicopter to the Park Rapids airport to help fight the fire near Menahga.
More than 25 wildfires that have broken out around the state in recent days due to the hot, dry weather, including two large fires that burned a combined 5,500 acres about 35 miles west and 45 miles northwest of Red Lake. Those fires did not destroy any structures.
"They got a little bit of rain and that seemed to help them a lot," Goad said.
Some new wildfires were reported Wednesday, and Goad said aircraft were called in to fight one that threatened some structures near Sandstone in east-central Minnesota.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources rated the fire danger across a large part of Minnesota as extreme.
See more video of the fire here.
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