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Published August 30, 2013, 12:24 PM

Karlstad, Minn., looks to limit fire hazards after 2012 wildfire

This summer’s dry conditions have further emphasized to Karlstad, Minn., officials the need to protect the town of 760 from wildfires. However, what happened on Oct. 2, 2012, provided the biggest motivation.

By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald

This summer’s dry conditions have further emphasized to Karlstad, Minn., officials the need to protect the town of 760 from wildfires.

However, what happened on Oct. 2, 2012, provided the biggest motivation. That’s when a wildfire destroyed or severely damaged 11 Karlstad homes.

“The need for a firebreak was talked about even before last year’s fire,” said Jeremy Folland, Karlstad’s volunteer fire chief. “But what happened last year and this year’s conditions have escalated the necessity of it.”

City leaders’ idea is to build a firebreak in certain areas of the town’s perimeter. This would require the permission of the landowners because the city’s hope is to do the work at a minimal cost.

The plan would include hiring farmers with discs, plows and cultivators to make a 20- to 50-foot wide permanent firebreak.

“The firebreak wouldn’t be in fields; it would be in lowlands, with slough grass and cattails,” said Folland, Karlstad’s volunteer fire chief. “We’re hoping to get cooperation from everybody because our intent is not to buy the land. The intent is to get everyone to work together.

“In our reality, it would cost everybody little if anything.”

With last fall’s extremely dry weather and 40-mph winds, there was no stopping the 14-foot high flames from burning more than 4,400 acres. Until rains the last two weeks, dry conditions had residents wary.

Karlstad’s Steve Murray, a Border Patrol retiree who had experience as an emergency manager with the federal agency, has volunteered to contact landowners to see if they will cooperate. He hopes to have answers from all of them within two weeks.

“I’ve talked to six to eight landowners and no one had told me ‘no’ yet,” he said. “There are fewer than 20 landowners who would be affected. A benefit for many of them would be greater safety from fire for their homes.”

Murray said none of the proposed firebreak land is tilled, but some of it is hay land or used for grazing.

Folland said a firebreak is no guarantee that Karlstad is immune from an overland fire.

“The issue last year was that fire danger ratings were off the charts, with the combination of humidity, temperatures and winds never seen before,” he said.

“We don’t know if fire breaks would have completely stopped it. But it would have given us an easier, quicker line to draw.”

In a related matter, Karlstad and other fire departments in the northwestern corner are contemplating a partnership to purchase a 100-foot ladder fire truck from the Department of Natural Resources for $8,000.

“It would be able to deal with fires in old elevators,” Folland said. “But, we also could have used it in last year’s fire. There was a two-story house fire that we could have gotten faster access to with a ladder truck.”

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