With a record-breaking dry fall being reported in Minnesota, the risk of fire continues to be a concern at both local and state levels, officials said Thursday.
This week, more than 96 percent of the state was in dry to extreme drought conditions, said Jean Goad, information officer with the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. There's been a higher than average number of fires started as well. Goad said the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is urging people to be cautious outdoors.
Drought, low levels of humidity in the air, and strong winds all combine to increase fire risks, Goad said. The DNR and the National Weather Service work together to assess risks and issue warnings, like the Red Flag Warning that was in effect in southwest Minnesota earlier this week. On Thursday, the DNR said much of Minnesota was at a high or very high risk of fire.
Goad said burning bans are usually declared by DNR foresters in the northern part of Minnesota, but in the southwestern part of the state, county and local authorities have the responsibility.
It's difficult to tell what fire forecasts will be from day to day, Goad said.
"It all depends on what we get for moisture," she said. On Thursday, increased humidity and moisture, and snow in northwestern Minnesota, helped lower fire risks slightly.
However, Goad and Lyon County Emergency Manager Tammy VanOverbeke said now is definitely not the time to be careless when working or playing outside.
"We really encourage people to use common sense," VanOverbeke said. Campfires, burning leaves and cigarette butts are all dangerous in dry and windy conditions. VanOverbeke said there have been citations issued this week for unauthorized burning.
Members of the public should obey all burning restrictions in their area, VanOverbeke and Goad said. Goad urged caution when using motor vehicles and equipment. In dry grass, heat vehicle exhaust or sparks from a lawn mower blade can easily start a fire. Goad discouraged the use of recreational vehicles like ATVs in dry conditions.
"We would urge people to use caution in agriculture," Goad said. Farm equipment and dry fields can be a flammable combination.
One of the most important parts of controlling fires is fast response, VanOverbeke said. If they see a fire, area residents should call 911 immediately.