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Crews continue to battle Northland wildfires; dangerous conditions continue

More firefighting crews are heading to northern Minnesota as extremely dangerous wildfire conditions show no sign of abating in the week ahead. Crews worked on at least six significant fires across the Northland on Sunday, in addition to numerous...

More firefighting crews are heading to northern Minnesota as extremely dangerous wildfire conditions show no sign of abating in the week ahead.

Crews worked on at least six significant fires across the Northland on Sunday, in addition to numerous smaller blazes.

The Pike fire near Embarrass, which prompted the deployment of two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters on Saturday, was largely under control Sunday evening after burning 200 acres.

Although air support was called off by Sunday evening for ongoing fires, officials are working to get more firefighting resources in place for what may be a busy week ahead. A 20-person firefighting crew from Illinois was due to arrive Sunday night, and officials were considering whether to bring additional support from the Great Plains, according to Marty Christensen, fire information officer at the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center.

Major fires reported in the Northland on Sunday were knocked down by the evening, leaving crews with a lot of mop-up work today to douse any remaining hot spots.

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Christensen said unlike typical early season fires, which often burn grasslands and are relatively easy to extinguish, fires across the Northland over the weekend affected timber and brush. Those kinds of fires are much more labor-intensive.

"We're going to have to use significant resources [Monday] to keep putting them to bed," Christensen said. "They're getting into heavier fuels that require chainsaws and a lot more people on the ground."

Although winds died down Sunday, Christensen said there was a report of 8 percent humidity in Aurora -- dangerously dry conditions that can fuel intense fires even without much wind. The National Weather Service is forecasting dry conditions through at least next weekend.

Here is a roundup of the larger fires Sunday, based on reports from the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:

  • Pike fire -- this fire in Pike Township, near Embarrass, started Saturday. It was knocked down with the help of aircraft after burning 200 acres. Thor Pakosz, a fire program forester in the Minnesota DNR's Tower field office, said the blaze was fully surrounded by bulldozer and wet lines Sunday evening, though officials had not yet declared it contained.

  • Balsam Store fire -- this fire, along Itasca County Highway 7 north of Taconite, was started by a trailer fire and threatened numerous structures. A P-3 Orion plane, capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of retardant, provided assistance and "really saved the day," Christensen said.

    No acreage estimate was available Sunday night.

  • Berry Farm fire -- this fire south of Keewatin was reported to have burned 120 to 140 acres in a remote area. Numerous aircraft were used to fight this fire.
  • Willow Beach fire -- no acreage estimate was available for this fire near Ball Club, which threatened some structures.
  • Deer Forest fire -- this fire burned about 70 acres near Whiteface Reservoir, south of Aurora. It was knocked down with the help of aircraft.
  • Highway 11 fire -- crews finished mopping up this blaze near Deer River on Sunday, concentrating their efforts on about a dozen hot spots. The fire burned about 115 acres.
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