As drought continues, risk of equipment-caused wildfire increases

July 9, 2021

With the ongoing drought increasing the risk of wildfire in northern Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges off-road vehicle, heavy equipment and agricultural operators to be cautious in these dry conditions, as they could unintentionally a spark a fire.

Equipment use is a major cause of wildfires every year, but Minnesota’s wildland fire management agencies report an uptick in recent weeks of equipment-caused wildfires due to extremely dry grasses and brush.

“Proper equipment use includes knowing the fire danger condition before you operate and making appropriate adjustments or delays to your planned activities,” said Ben Lang, Bemidji Area Forestry assistant supervisor.

Lang said it takes about 500 degrees to start a wildfire in the summer, and that exhaust systems on both road and recreational vehicles can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees. “Use good judgement, avoid parking or operating in tall grasses or brush where exhaust systems could ignite vegetation, and keep ATVs on the trail," he said. 

In addition, various farm, construction, logging, welding, and lawn equipment have an assortment of belts, chains, buckets and blades capable of creating sparks when they hit against rocks or hard surfaces.

In northwestern Minnesota, mowing and haying activity is ongoing, and the coming wheat harvest later this month also brings concern for potential wildfire, especially as July and August are typically drier months.

Lang encourages the following tactics to keep equipment from turning into fire starters:

  • Make sure equipment has undergone maintenance and is fire safe, including use of an approved spark arrester on all internal combustion-powered equipment.
  • When hauling equipment, take care to ensure trailer chains are not dragging, as this can create sparks on roadways.
  • Always check current fire danger conditions at the DNR statewide fire danger and burning restrictions map and adjust or postpone operations as necessary.

People who do spot a wildfire, should call 911.

For more information, visit the DNR wildland fire information webpage.