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Sunburg firefighters battle a stubborn grass fire Friday west of Sunburg that tore through tall grass and shrubs in a wildlife area, as well as farm fields that had corn stubble. The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning -- which recognizes critical fire weather conditions -- for all of southwest Minnesota.

Red flag burn ban warning in effect

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WORTHINGTON -- According to the Rock County Sheriff's Office, no open burning will be allowed today in Rock County due to a recommendation sent out by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Residential fire pits will be allowed after 7 p.m. as long as they have a cover, Rock County Sheriff Even Verbrugge stated.

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The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a red flag warning for all of southwest Minnesota, but as of Friday, only Rock and Nobles County had reported a burn ban.

As for Sunday, Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening said he'll wait to see what the NWS and DNR have to say.

"We're following their recommendations this year," he added.

"Conditions are coming together in southwest Minnesota for a red flag event this afternoon," NWS warning stated Friday. "Low humidity values and wind speeds are both prevalent at the same time, producing red flag conditions. The red flag warning remains in effect from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. this afternoon."

A red flag warning means critical fire weather conditions are either occurring or are expected in the near future. A combination of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures can create explosive fire potential, the NWS stated. Tall vegetation that is still dormant or dead, which could cause fire to spread rapidly and exhibit critical fire behavior.

Winds were stronger Friday than Thursday, and increased over the afternoon, with gusts up to more than 30 miles per hour.

The DNR currently has extreme fire danger ratings along the entire western half of the state, from the Iowa border to Canada. Under an extreme rating, a fire situation is "explosive and can result quickly in extensive property damage... Development into high-intensity burning will usually be faster and occur from smaller fires."

If fighting a blaze, the NWS warns fire departments, it is recommended to attack from the flanks and avoid the head of the fire. The DNR states direct attack is rarely possible under these conditions, and could be dangerous.

"The only effective and safe control action is on the flanks until the weather changes or the fuel supply lessens," the issued warning states.

During normal burning conditions, permits are required for open burning across the state. Those permits have limitations, according to the DNR.

The process to obtain a burning permit can vary from county to county, so people should contact their local county sheriff's office at the non-emergency phone number during regular business hours for more information.

An open burning permit is required for any fire larger than a campfire up to three feet in diameter and when the ground is not covered by at least three inches of snow. Open burning is restricted to vegetative materials such as brush, grass or untreated wood. The permit does not allow the burning of materials including garbage, tires, plastics, sheetrock, plywood or painted boards.

"What you can and can't burn is pretty simple," stated DNR Fire Supervisor Tom Romaine. "If it's not natural, untreated vegetative material, it cannot be burned."

Under extremely dry conditions such as those that exist this weekend, open permits may be limited by restrictions or bans. This voids existing permits, new permits will not be issued and recreational fires -- even smoking outdoors -- can be prohibited depending on the fire danger.

Illegal burning is a misdemeanor, but bigger financial penalties can result from loss of property, disposal of burnt materials and firefighting expenses.

According to the DNR, unauthorized or illegal fires should be reported by dialing 911.

"The best policy is, if in doubt, report it," Romaine said. "An early report of fire enables a quicker response time and helps to keep fires small."

Daily Globe Reporter Justine Wettschreck may be reached at 376-7322.

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