Froeber thankful that DNR now has final say on burning permit activations

    Crookston Fire Chief Tim Froeber says he was pretty relieved when he looked out the window at his house Tuesday morning and saw a small puddle at the end of his driveway.

    “I’ll tell you what, thank God it rained last night,” he told the Times. “I don’t know how much we got, but every drop helps right now, to be honest with you.”

    That’s because, in what has become a fairly normal springtime phenomenon, the spring thaw and snow-melt haven’t had a significant or lasting impact on soil moisture. In other words, things have dried out in a hurry once again, and the fire danger is subsequently high.

    “We’ve been up and down with the fire danger over several days; we’ve been in ‘high’ and ‘very high’ but we haven’t been ‘extreme’ yet,” Froeber explained.

    Tuesday, the fire danger for Crookston and the surrounding area is “high,” which, Froeber said, means that “fires can start easily and spread at a fast rate.”

    To provide daily guidance to people like Froeber, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources updates its fire danger ratings on its website every day prior to 9 a.m. Froeber said because of the overnight rain, the DNR as of Tuesday is allowing burning permits once again. But with the rest of the week looking predominantly dry weather-wise, that could change.

    Froeber is thankful that the final say on allowing burning permit applications no longer rests with local fire departments. A few years ago, the DNR stepped in as the final authority on burning permit requests. “We can issue them, but it’s up to the DNR to activate them,” he explained. “If the DNR says the conditions are not right for you to burn today and you burn anyway, you’ll get fined.”

    The local jurisdiction used to have the final say, Froeber continued, but then a severe drought a handful of years ago “cost the DNR millions of dollars to go and chase all these fires all over the state, and afterward they said enough of that.”

    He’s appreciative of the DNR stepping in.

    “It’s really nice,” Froeber said. “We can still issue a permit, but (the permit holder) has no choice but to call the DNR to activate it. They will deny if (the fire danger) is very high or extreme.”

    This time of year, most of the burning permit applications come from farmers and other rural landowners who might want to burn off some acreage, grasslands, Conservation Reserve Program land, or maybe a tree-row pile they’ve accumulated. “These mainly apply to those people and those situations, and they have to abide by all of these rules,” Froeber said.

    Meanwhile, with the fire danger likely to remain at least elevated for the foreseeable future, he reminds everyone to be safe, smart and legal. “We’re here and ready to respond if anything happens,” Froeber added.