Because of extreme fire danger in many parts of the state, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is urging people to use caution when working or playing outdoors.
A Red Flag Fire Warning, issued by the National Weather Service, was in effect this week in western Minnesota. Relative humidity was 20% to 30% in that part of the state and winds were from the north/northwest at 20 to 30 mph with gusts to 35 mph.
Minnesota is experiencing an extremely dry fall, with more than 96% of the state in dry to extreme drought conditions and a higher than average incidence of fire starts. Added to that, weather conditions Monday and Tuesday this week were primed to lead to extreme fire danger.
The DNR said people should make sure their outdoor equipment is in good working order and carry a fire extinguisher, firefighting equipment and water.
Other ways to decrease fire starts include using a spark arrester on all internal combustion equipment, using screens fitted between the exhaust port of the piston and the muffler to help prevent sparks, and using a fire resistant tarp or blanket to prevent sparks from landing on dry vegetation.
Another source of sparks comes from mowers when blades hit rocks or slip clutches heat up and spark, making continuous monitoring critical when mowing. If possible, mow on days with higher relative humidity (or dewpoint) or at least early in the morning when humidity is high and winds are low.
Parking or driving on dry vegetation is also a potential source of fire. The exhaust system on a vehicle can reach a temperature of more than 1,000 degrees – it only takes about 500 degrees to start a fire.
DNR firefighters responded to many fires over the weekend. Several of those fires were large enough to require support from aircraft and several of those will require extended mop up.
Unfortunately, many of the fires were started by people working or recreating outdoors. Equipment and vehicles can (and have) caused wildfires. Chain saws, weed eaters, lawn mowers, welders, grinders, bulldozers, off road vehicles and other equipment can lead to wildfires; so can harvest equipment like combines and shredders, logging equipment, and highway maintenance equipment like road graders.
The DNR also reminds people to be careful with campfires where allowed, use caution with equipment and vehicles and report fire starts immediately.