Weeks without much rain, near-record warm temperatures and now gale-force winds have combined to push fire danger up across Minnesota and spur officials to issue a red-flag, fire-danger warning.

The warning is in effect for nearly all of Minnesota because, officials say, any small fire that usually would smolder and die could blow up under current conditions into a major conflagration.

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Outdoor fires and barbecues, smoking and even vehicle mufflers can cause sparks that will spur wildfires.

Agricultural crops, grasses, brush and forest areas all are ripe for fire because of the seasonal change coupled with heat and wind. Gusts up to 40 mph are expected in western Minnesota and 25 mph in the Duluth area. Temperatures are expected to rise into the 80s, except near Lake Superior.

The warning was in effect until 7 p.m. today and is expected to be posted again Friday.

Only Lake and Cook counties are not included in the red-flag-warning area because winds only will gust into the 20 mph range, but officials caution it remains extremely dry in that area. The National Drought Monitor reports much of St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties are in a moderate to severe drought.

The Minnesota Office of Climatology reported this week that September was among the driest in recorded history across much of Minnesota, with rainfall levels at or near historic low levels

Many of Minnesota's largest wildfires, including the Moose Lake-Cloquet fire of 1918, have occurred in autumn.

Officials in charge of mopping up the Pagami Creek fire in the Superior National Forest today said the dry, warm, windy conditions could cause unburned areas within the fire perimeter to burn, sending more smoke into the air. But they remain confident the fire's outer perimeter will hold with little or no growth.