Large grass fire near Mentor and Hwy. 32 still a threat Monday night

Mike Christopherson
A man sprays water Monday evening in Mentor on the grass behind the Clark gas station and Dairy Queen. In the foreground is several emptied bags of ice and buckets of ice dumped by employees to keep the grass wet.

A large grass fire east and southeast of Crookston south of Highway 2 and along Highway 32 brought firefighters from Crookston and many other small towns in the area Monday afternoon, and many firefighters and trucks with flashing lights continued to dot the landscape after dark Monday night. Various patches of fire were still apparent south of Highway 2 near Highway 32, with fire trucks and flashing lights either fighting the fires or monitoring them.

Fire burns in a ditch along Minnesota Highway 32 a couple miles south of U.S. Highway 2.
After sunset Monday evening, Minnesota State Troopers block eastbound access to U.S. Highway 2 at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 32, while fire continues to burn nearby.

At one point, it was said that Mentor itself was possibly in danger, and as the sun set Monday evening, employees at the Clark gas station and Dairy Queen next door were spraying the grass on their properties with water and dumping buckets of ice and smashing bags of ice into the grass. A Minnesota State Patrol trooper told the Times while blocking traffic from a portion of Highway 2 that it appeared Mentor was going to be safe. The town itself was buzzing, with the Mentor Volunteer Fire Department station serving as a staging area of sorts, and firefighters and fire trucks coming and going. Meanwhile, many people just stood and watched the orange smoke-filled skies to the west, or looked on from their parked vehicles.

A helicopter, one of at least three observed on the scene, provides air support near Minnesota Highway 32 as the sun sets.
A young woman pours a bucket of water on grass behind the Clark gas station in Mentor along a line of ice previously dumped on the grass. In the background are smoke-filled skies and fire trucks to the west.

And persistent all day and into the night were steady strong winds with gusts that reportedly topped 50 miles per hour from the west and southwest. The combination of high winds, dry conditions and low humidity had the National Weather Service over the weekend declare Monday a Red Flag Fire Warning Day, its most extreme fire-danger related warning. Prior to that, the Department of Natural Resources had issued burning restrictions for Polk and other area counties because of the high fire danger.

A post along a driveway on Highway 32 burns.
Firefighters gather along Highway 32 before getting their next instructions.

No one on the scene was saying anything about what might have started Monday's grass fire.

It was clear just how many acres had burned starting on Highway 2 between Crookston and the intersection of Highway 32. Much of the prairie landscape was black and still smoking.

Flames burn a ditch along Minnesota Highway 32 south of Highway 2.

In addition to all of the fire departments who were summoned to help, three and possibly four helicopters were seen providing water support from the air.