Dry conditions and high winds fueled a grass fire that burned approximately 60 acres of land between Farmington and Lakeville Saturday night. Farmington firefighters battled the blaze for about 3 1/2 hours, encountering numerous setbacks thanks to Mother Nature along the way.
A fire in the wetland behind the 18100 block of Dunbury Avenue was reported to Farmington Fire at 6:10 p.m. Saturday. When firefighters arrived, they found a fire covering approximately 3,000 square feet of land, and spreading.
The conditions were less than ideal, Farmington fire chief Tim Pietsch said. Even though the department had responded with both tender trucks, three brush trucks, the rescue truck and one engine, simply getting to the fire proved difficult.
"It was so boggy out there, it was hard to get the trucks out there to get at the fire," Pietsch said.
Instead of taking the risk of getting rigs stuck, firefighters used pump cans - portable water tanks with sprayers attached - and made their way to the fire on foot.
The fire was traveling north, thanks to the winds coming from the south. Firefighters almost had the blaze knocked down when the wind shifted, and the fire breathed new life.
"It just took off," Pietsch said. "The flames were 20, 25 feet high. The smoke was so thick and black the Allina guys told us they could see it all the way from United Hospital in St. Paul."
Fortunately, Pietsch said, Lakeville's fire department had also been dispatched to the scene. As the fire was spreading north toward Lakeville, Pietsch asked if the neighboring department could find an entrance to the wetland from the north. Lakeville's firefighters found access from 173rd Street.
The two departments worked together, Farmington attacking from the south and Lakeville coming from the north. Getting across the bog was challenging, though, and at one point Farmington's firefighters had to cross open water by walking over a beaver dam they had found.
The warm weather took its toll, Farmington fire marshal John Powers said. Allina Ambulance paramedics did treated one of Farmington firefighter for heat exhaustion.
Farmington police were also called to the scene. Neighbors reported seeing juveniles in the area just before the fire started to take off, so police are looking for more information on who those kids may be. At the same time, police had to block curious residents who wanted to get out and get a better look at the action.
"A lot of them were trying to walk in and see what was going on and take pictures of the fire," Pietsch said. "The police had to shoo them out. As long as the wind came from the south, we were okay, but if the wind shifted again, we didn't want anybody to be in harm's way."
Saturday's was the fourth grass fire FFD has responded to since the snow melted this year. Firefighters responded to two smaller fires on Sunday. In one case, a man was burning brush and the wind caused the fire to spread to his neighbor's yard. The other happened when a man was burning garbage and the fire spread out of his control.
The trend is concerning to Powers.
"This is really early for the spring, so we're worried about a long, dry grass fire season," he said. "With the high temperatures and brisk winds we've had lately, whatever moisture was out there has long evaporated, so we're really looking for some rain."
Evidence at the scene suggests Saturday's fire was started by human action, though Powers would not specify what that may be. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has an investigative team to handle wildland fires, and they are working with Farmington police.
Excluding Sunday's two fires, Powers said three of the four grass fires this year have been started by people. Discarded cigarettes were to blame for two of the four.