Boaters on Lake Bemidji hindered efforts to fight a nearby wildfire Tuesday, the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office said.
A wildfire sparked before 4 p.m. Tuesday in Eckles Township, prompting a precautionary evacuation of people in the area at about 4:45 p.m., Beltrami County Emergency Management said.
Firefighting crews tackled the 75-acre blaze on the ground and from the air via air tankers and helicopters. But those interested in watching what was going on made it difficult for the airplanes to collect water from Lake Bemidji.
At about 6 p.m., the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook asking people to avoid the north side of the lake because boats were getting in the way of airplanes as they swooped to collect water to fight the fire.
"Numerous boats are hindering water collecting efforts," the post said.
But that wasn't enough. Sheriff Ernie Beitel ended up hopping in a sheriff's boat and went out on the water once they noticed "boaters were not staying out of the way of planes grabbing water," a later post said.
The sheriff took video of one of the planes collecting water after rounding up boaters and clearing the way:
By about 6:15 p.m., Beltrami County Emergency Management lifted the precautionary evacuations (several homes were evacuated), but noted crews continued to fight hot spots in the area.
In a post on Facebook, the agency reminded people not to go sightseeing and said roads in the area of the fire were being restricted to those who live there.
In total, 15 fire engines, "several" air tankers and three helicopters, as well as other equipment, were brought in to battle the blaze.
The fire burned roughly 75 acres of grass and pine northwest of Bemidji, about a quarter-mile west of Cardinal Road Northwest and Radar Road, with officials noting the blaze was moving south.
The origin of the fire is under investigation.
Much of Minnesota is in a drought due to lack of rain, prompting burning restrictions in much of north-central and northeastern Minnesota. The Minnesota DNR says Bemidji and Beltrami County are under a "very high" risk for fires, noting they'll start easily and spread at a "very fast" rate due to current conditions.
“The nearly 1,500 wildfires that have occurred in Minnesota since March are more than we typically see in an entire year,” Linda Gormanson, burning permit coordinator, said in a statement. “We want people to keep recreating and enjoying the outdoors, but in ways that reduce the risk of igniting a wildfire.”
So far this year, wildfires have burned more than 34,100 acres in Minnesota, the Minnesota Incident Command System says.