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Warning: Winter burning can spark spring wildfires (January 16, 2008)

Winter is generally a good time to burn large brush and slash piles left over from logging and land clearing. However, if not properly extinguished and monitored, burned piles can rekindle and spark wildfires in the spring.

According to Jeff Edmonds, Forester with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), no burning permit is required if there are at least three inches of snow on the ground.

"Winter slash fires are unlikely to spread as long as the snow is present," says Edmonds. "However, dirt, ashes and snow can insulate embers and keep them smoldering for days, weeks or even months. On a dry, windy spring day, embers can be fanned into flames once again, escape into nearby dead grasses and quickly become a fast-moving wildfire."

The DNR estimates that in the northwest region alone, up to a dozen or more fires each spring can be attributed to winter burn piles that were inadequately extinguished.

To avoid another rash of "holdover" fires this spring, DNR foresters want to remind everyone to be careful with fire. If you burn, be absolutely sure that your pile is completely out. Use extra care with brush, slash and dozer piles, as they often contain large stumps and dirt, which can hold fire for months.

Be aware that if your winter burn pile rekindles and escapes, you can be held responsible for wildfire suppression costs and may be subject to fines.

For more information, please contact your local fire department or DNR Forestry.