April’s game: From floods to firesSouthwest Minnesota under extreme fire alert
AVOCA — When Avoca Fire and Rescue was dispatched Friday afternoon, the firefighters were told there was a structure fire, but didn’t know what they were facing until they arrived at the scene on 230th Avenue.
AVOCA — When Avoca Fire and Rescue was dispatched Friday afternoon, the firefighters were told there was a structure fire, but didn’t know what they were facing until they arrived at the scene on 230th Avenue. The thick black smoke rolling from the fire could be seen for miles — the color of the smoke a good indication the fire contained more than just brush or trees.
“When we got there, we knew it was going to take more than what we had,” said Avoca Fire and Rescue (AFR) Chief Tom Nelson.
A large shed with a collapsed roof was on fire, as was a pile of debris, an unused old hog barn full of pens and other stored items and part of the Vandyke family’s grove.
AFR immediately called for mutual aid from the Fulda Fire Department.
“It is nice to know help is just a radio call away,” Nelson stated.
Three tankers were running non-stop as the two departments battled the blazes from all angles. Each load of water was dumped into a drop tank, then the tanker would hit the road once more to fetch another load of water
Nelson was unsure how much water was used to fight the fire.
“It is really hard to say,” he explained. “We had to use a lot of equipment we normally wouldn’t for a standard structure fire. We were basically fighting a structure fire and a wild fire at the same time.”
Luckily, no one was injured and the hog barn is not used for livestock, but anything in the buildings is a total loss. According to Chris Vandyke, the roof had collapsed on the shed during the winter from the heavy snow, but the electricity going to the building was still on.
With pumpers, tankers and grass rigs at the scene, a truck from the electric company also arrived to cut the power to both of the buildings that were burning. While some firefighters trained hoses flowing with water on the structures and flames, others headed into the grove to handle the burning trees and debris piles.
Neither structure was saved, but nearby barns and the residence of Duane and Chris Vandyke were protected from the flames.
“With as wet as everything was during the thaw, people don’t realize how dry everything has now become,” Nelson pointed out.
While some areas of the state are still under flood warnings, the National Weather Service issued an extreme fire alert over the weekend for Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone and Rock Counties.
“An extremely dry air mass will remain across the area today, causing the relative humidity to fall to 15 to 30 percent,” the alert stated Sunday morning. “Southwest winds will increase across the area, and along with the low relative humidity will create a very high to extreme fire risk.”
The grassland fire danger index also reached an extreme category Sunday afternoon.
“Extreme weather conditions and a very low moisture content of grasses, leaves, pine needles, small twigs or other organic material indicates that critical burning conditions exist,” warns the alert. “A fire will start easily and has the potential to become large and spread quickly, becoming erratic with extreme behavioral characteristics. No outdoor burning should take place.”
By Monday afternoon, the alert states, the grassland fire danger index will reach the moderate category.
Fulda’s fire department also battled a fire Saturday afternoon in rural Fulda, and the Lake Wilson Fire Department was dispatched at noon Sunday for a fire near Hadley.
Despite the extreme fire danger alert issued by the National Weather Service, burning was not regulated. According to Murray County Dispatch, more than 60 burn permits were called in over the weekend. Nobles County Dispatch reported more than 30 burn permits called in.
Nelson said it is important that people apply for burn permits and remember to call them in before they burn.