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Near-total ban on outdoor fires announced

State, county and federal officials are imposing an almost total ban -- the most restrictive in years -- on outdoor fires in Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties starting Friday at 8 a.m.

State, county and federal officials are imposing an almost total ban -- the most restrictive in years -- on outdoor fires in Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties starting Friday at 8 a.m.

The ban includes all campfires, backyard fires, brush fires, burn barrels, welders, torches and other burning in forested or grassy areas, except within 1 mile of Lake Superior where recreational fires will remain legal between 6 p.m. and midnight.

The ban -- announced late Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in cooperation with the Superior National Forest and county governments -- is in response to a 14-month long drought that has worsened in recent weeks, leaving forests tinder dry.

Wildfire officials are concerned that recreational fires might get out of control and grow so quickly that they can't be stopped, much like the devastating Ham Lake fire along the Gunflint Trail in May -- the largest and most expensive wildfire in Minnesota since 1918.

The fire ban includes public and private land, even within towns and cities such as Duluth. No campfires will be allowed in state parks, the BWCAW or any areas other than the one-mile zone.

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"We have a very serious situation and we've formed a joint response,'' said Tersea Maday, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids.

Even with this week's expected cooler temperatures, the lack of any meaningful rain, coupled with gusty winds, could spark wildfires, Maday said.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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