PCSO: Grass fire that burned up to 15,000 acres under investigation; hot spots remain

Some firefighters and air support will remain on the scene for the next couple of days monitoring hot spots

Mike Christopherson
One of the helicopters providing air support at the grass fire near Mentor flies above Minnesota Highway 32 Monday evening as the sun sets.

As winds continue to howl and conditions remain extremely dry, firefighters with air support will remain near Mentor and areas to the west, north and south near U.S. Highway 2, Minnesota Highway 32 and Polk County Highway 45 for the next couple of days, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office reports, putting out hot spots after a grass fire Monday burned an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 acres.

    The PCSO says the cause of the fire is under investigation. Due to the dry conditions in the region, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources last week issued burning restrictions for Polk and several other counties in the region, and the National Weather Service, taking into consideration the extremely high winds and low humidity, designated Monday a Red Flag Warning Day, meaning the fire danger was as high as it could get.

    In addition to the acreage, the fire destroyed an outbuilding, farm equipment and hay bales. No life-threatening injuries were reported, the PCSO states.

    The call came in around 1 p.m. on Monday, March 29, from Section 21 of Tilden Township. Mentor Fire and Rescue was the first to respond, but the fire spread quickly. Soon, law enforcement closed portions of Highways 2, 32 and 45 due to the rapidly spreading fire and low visibility due to the smoke.

    Firefighters from across the region soon converged on the area. Fire departments responded from Fertile, Crookston, Red Lake Falls, McIntosh, Erskine, Winger, Oklee, Gary, Thief River Falls and Beltrami. In addition to the PCSO, also responding were County EMS, Crookston Area Ambulance Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Minnesota DNR along with Air Support, Salvation Army, Red Cross, and the Minnesota State Patrol. Helicopters and planes used nearby Maple Lake to collect water that was dumped on the blaze.

    As the sun set Monday, concern spread to the community of Mentor itself as the smoke and flames, carried by strong winds out of the west, drew closer to the town. Employees at the Clark gas station and convenience store and Dairy Queen next door used hoses to spray the grass on their properties with water and dumped five-gallon buckets of ice and smashed open bags of ice and dumped it on the grass. But no evacuations in town were ordered and eventually the town was deemed safe.