Wind exacerbates Snake Trail Fire near Waseca, No loss of life or structures

By: 
Jarrod Schoenecker

Jarrod Schoenecker photo
The wildfire on Sunday, March 3 burns on the northeast side of Rice Lake, within a mile of the city limits of Waseca.

    In an eerie foreshadowing statement, the Montgomery Fire Department put out the message Sunday on Facebook saying, “Despite the super nice weather this weekend, please consider NOT burning anything this afternoon. With the elevated fire conditions this afternoon, it would be highly unsafe to burn anything.”
    Temperatures soared into all-time record territory for March 3, with temperatures being broken across the state for the day. In the Twin Cities, it reached 74 degrees, which broke the old record of 65 that was set in 1905.
    The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a red flag warning for southeastern and south central Minnesota from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, including Waseca and Steele Counties.
    With strong southerly winds and reaching record temperatures for the date, the Waseca Fire Department said in a press release from the Waseca County Sheriff’s Office that the department responded to a grass fire at approximately noon in the area of 15,000 block of Snake Trail in Waseca County — about a mile northeast of the city limits of Waseca.
    The fire quickly expanded with the high winds and more agencies were called in to assist. As the fire was seemingly within manageable range, a cold front moved through the area, changing the wind direction from southerly to westerly, and the fire jumped from the Rice Lake area into the Findley and Moonan State Wildlife Areas to the east. This also expanded it partially into Steele County.
    The smoke flume could be seen on weather radar as far north as North Branch and later, as the wind shifted, Baldwin, Wis.
    Multiple residents were evacuated, and no structures were damaged or destroyed. Many residents of the area near the fire could be seen preparing their properties by moving some items inside of metal buildings, driving vehicles to a different location, and gathering belongings in preparation to evacuate should the fire overtake their location.
    Ash poured down on houses and smoke choked the air downwind of the fire, partially blocking out sunlight. A tractor pulling a unit behind it assisted in grassy and farm areas to break up the fire lines. Law enforcement blocked critical roads downwind of the fire and in areas where emergency crews were utilizing.
    For a short period of time in the later afternoon, planes from the Minnesota DNR Forestry Division flew down dropping flame retardant on parts of the blaze. Late afternoon into the early evening, a helicopter assisted with water bucket, filling the bucket at a pond within the Moonan State Wildlife Area and dumping over areas of the flames.
    One resident and two firefighters were injured. The firefighters were treated and released, but the condition of the resident is unknown.
    An estimated total of 1,594 acres burned or a little over three square miles. The fire was contained by...

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