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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Evacuees allowed to return to Karlstad

  • Six to eight homes burn; no injuries reported. Rain and/or snow would help.
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  •     Evacuees have returned to their homes Karlstad 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.
    A wild day
        "Things are under some control," Karlstad Assistant Fire Chief Grandstrand told The Associated Press Tuesday evening. "We're in better shape."
        Emily Straw, executive director of the Karlstad Health Care Center nursing home and assisted living center, said all 69 residents were evacuated as the fire bore down on the community.
        "We could see the flames, 8 feet high, from the nursing home," Straw said.
        Residents were taken to the First Lutheran Church several blocks away because it was away from the smoke, she said. From there, staffers were able to place all the residents in either other area nursing homes or with relatives. She said buses were coming in from neighboring communities to help move the residents.
        "Everybody is doing very well," Straw said. "Staff has been wonderful. Residents have been wonderful. The surrounding communities have been phenomenal."
        Authorities ordered the evacuation when the fire reached a "trigger point" near Karlstad, Goad said. Authorities dispatched water-dropping aircraft to try to keep the fire out of the community, she said.
        The Minnesota National Guard sent two Blackhawk helicopters, and Goad said a Chinook helicopter was dispatched.
        Fire departments from as far away as Grand Forks, N.D., joined in the fight, Dufault said.
        The weather conditions in Hallock were 72 degrees with a relative humidity of just 19 percent and winds from the southwest of 35 mph gusting to 43 mph, Goad said. The National Weather Service described fire conditions as "critical" and issued a red flag warning on Tuesday for most of western Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas.
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