Weather to Bring Relief from Minnesota Wildfires
Evacuees were being allowed to return home Wednesday in Karlstad after firefighters stopped a rapidly-advancing wildfire from engulfing the small northwestern Minnesota town, and officials welcomed the relief expected to come from a forecast that included potentially heavy snow.
State Fire Marshal Bruce Roed said the fire was 95 percent contained Wednesday morning and had not grown since Tuesday night. About 400 people returned to their homes, he said. The fire burned about 12 square miles to the south, east and west of the city after it flared up Tuesday afternoon, but there were no injuries.
The city's fire chief asked people who spent the night at a Red Cross shelter at Grace Lutheran Church in Hallock, about 20 miles to the northwest, and elsewhere to wait until noon to go home because of heavy equipment still being moved around the city of about 750 people, said Jean Goad, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. It was just a request and not an order, she added.
The fire destroyed six homes and 12 other structures in the Karlstad area Tuesday, Goad said. It was one of eight fires in northwestern Minnesota aggravated by extremely dry vegetation, low humidity and high winds Tuesday. The area has been in drought most of the year.
Authorities evacuated 69 residents of Karlstad's nursing home and assisted living center, and also evacuated the city's K-12 school as the fire blanketed the community in thick smoke Tuesday afternoon. Fire departments from all over the surrounding area sent crews to help, and Goad said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources sent engines that took the night shift.
The Minnesota National Guard was expected to send a third Blackhawk helicopter Wednesday to join two Blackhawks and one Chinook helicopter already deployed on fire duty, Goad said. The big military helicopters have been helpful because conditions were too windy for smaller aircraft, she said. Fire managers planned to fly over the area with infrared equipment to detect any remaining hot spots, she said.
The weather turned considerably colder Wednesday. The local forecast called for rain starting in the afternoon, changing over to snow early Thursday with accumulations of up to 7 inches. Winds were expected to be gusty Wednesday but not as high as Tuesday.
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