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Corps members fight winter fire in northern Minnesota

On December 26, the Boxing Day Fire burned 750 acres of woods near the northwestern Minnesota city of Gully and the Hangaard State Wildlife Management Area, in Polk County. A Conservation Corps crew from Rochester arrived two days later, just as temperatures dropped and it began to snow. Though the rapidly moving fire had been brought under control, it continued to burn as peat fires; the extremely hot fire caught the dry peat and spread underground. Corps members spent five days working with 60 DNR firefighters and three local volunteer fire departments. After locating the fires, indentified by brown patches on the ground where newly falling snow had melted, they dug down to expose and extinguish the fires. The deepest fire was five feet underground. Corps members Karl Erie (crew leader), Dylan Olson, Brittany Schmit and Jon Bunton also had to navigate slippery ice after the rapidly-freezing conditions dropped 8-10 inches of snow.

Minnesota’s dry, brown winter has turned normally low fire-danger conditions into a tinderbox, with exposed grasses and brush ripe for fires. Winter’s cold weather and low wind chill temperatures make fire fighting more difficult. In addition to the slippery ice, hazards include frostbite and frozen water pumps.

Photo: From left, crew members Jon Bunton, Karl Erie and Dylan Olson wrap up a day of firefighting.