Wildfire 'mostly under control' but danger persists

7:20 AM, Oct 3, 2012   |    comments
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KARLSTAD, Minn. - Evacuees have returned to their homes in a small northwestern Minnesota town after fire crews contained a rapidly-spreading wildfire fueled by brisk winds.

State fire marshal Bruce Roed said Wednesday the fire is 95 percent contained and has not grown since Tuesday night when about 400 people returned to their homes in the Kittson County town of Karlstad.

The wildfire earlier burned about 12 square miles and destroyed six to eight homes in the Karlstad area. Authorities evacuated Karlstad's nursing home, school, assisted living center and a group home as the fire blanketed the community in thick smoke.

City Clerk Sue Dufault says people were evacuated to Hallock, about 20 miles to the northwest.

Roed says the possibility of 6 inches of snow Wednesday is welcome news to firefighters. 

The wildfire that threatened Karlstad wasn't the only threat to the region; as many as eight fires that were burning on Tuesday morning.

"We are very fortunate there was no loss of life," said Karlstad Fire Chief Sam Grandstand.

No injuries are reported, but there were about 6-8 structures that were lost. At least some of the structures were homes, Grandstand said.

Grandstand said he is unclear when residents will be allowed back into their homes.

Minnesota Interagency Fire Center spokesperson Jean Goad says authorities ordered the Karlstad evacuation when the fire reached a "trigger point" near the town.

Goad says the Minnesota National Guard sent helicopters to help fight the fire. 

"It's just sad, sad thing," said resident Ashlee Nelson.

She and her 5-year-old son were evacuated from their home after the blaze got too close.

"I was there as long as I could to keep the hose running. Finally a DNR officer pulled up and told me I had to go," she said. "Down the highway where I live I'm pretty sure I won't have any neighbors. There's at least four houses I've heard gone down by my way."

Fire officials tell KARE 11 the fires were difficult to fight.

"The biggest challenge is the wind. It's moving it's so quickly. You can start the suppression so quickly and then it starts creeping on you," said Major Mike Barker with the Minnesota National Guard.

Barker is with the National Guard's Aviation Division. He says 20 of his crew members were in the Karlstad area Tuesday night and six more were arriving in the morning.

Meanwhile, Nelson doesn't believe her home was damaged by the flames but she has not been able to get close enough to confirm that.

"There's not really grass surrounded the town. The trees are kind of smoldering still. It's unreal. It's crazy to look at," said Nelson.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE and The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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