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Serendipity on their side

With conditions already stacked against them, area firefighters had their hands full during Monday’s widespread grass fire. A?stroke of good fortune, however, made fighting the blaze a little easier.

October 10, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - There is never a good time to have a wildfire break out, but good fortune was on the side of area firefighters Monday afternoon.

The dozens of firefighters from nine departments who battled Monday's large blaze near Camden State Park from the ground had some backup from above in the form of a Department of Natural Resources Department of Forestry helicopter, which dumped buckets of water on tough-to-access areas of the fire to help battle it.

With help from the chopper, firefighters were able to contain the fire primarily to private land and, for the most part, keep it out of the park.

Article Photos

Independent file photo
Firefighters from nearly a dozen area cities teamed up to fight Monday’s grassfire that touched the outskirts of Camden State Park and got a helping hand from a DNR helicopter that hit the hard-to-reach areas.

With conditions ripe for a grass fire, Camden State Park Manager Bill Dinesen said having the chopper so close made firefighting efforts that much easier.

"It was a godsend," said Dinesen. "It was very handy. We utilized it quite a bit to get down to the ravines to knock the fire down. It was perfect timing to have it stationed here."

The chopper arrived in Marshall about noon on Monday, brought in because of mounting concern over the potential for grass fires.

"It's definitely an issue here," Dinesen said. "One good thing with our situation here is that a lot of the crops, if not all of them, have been taken out of the field already, which lessens the amount of fuel that would only add to fire conditions."

Water was drawn from a small, shallow wetland basin just north of the fire area. Brawner Lake on the other side of Camden was a second option, but it would've taken longer to get water to the fire from there.

"It was a pretty big advantage," said Russell Fire Chief Brad Hodges, who served as incident commander during the fire. "We were pretty fortunate that it was sent here for precautionary measures."

Hodges said the terrain at the location of the fire made it different than most grass fires where firefighters are dealing mostly with flat prairieland.

"With all the ravines, you have a real hard time getting water down there where you have to drag hoses and backpacks and get everything down there. There's a big danger factor, too, with slips and falls," he said.

Dinesen is looking forward to Saturday, when the forecast calls for a chance of all-day rains. While few people enjoy rain on the weekends, it would go a long way to easing Dinesen's concerns, given the dryness and low humidity levels that have turned southern Minnesota into one giant red flag.

"It would help the situation out a lot," he said. "If that wind had switched, things could've been a lot different. It's very dry out there. We found out in fighting this fire that a lot of the downed trees that normally take a lot of fire to burn were burning completely out. Everything is very dry. It doesn't take much to get something going and burn completely at this point."

Dinesen said not only does the park remain open, campers and hikers would have a hard time even noticing a grass fire took place. Only the outskirts of the park - some grassy areas - were burned.

"Visitors won't even notice there was any burning in the park; it was mostly contained to private land at the south end of the park or areas of the park where we don't have any trails,"?he said.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined. Officials estimate about 80 acres were burned.



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