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Fast-spreading wildfire near Bemidji is 'suspicious,' officials say

They're seeking the public's help to pinpoint a cause.
An airplane collects water from Lake Bemidji to fight the Eckles Township wildfire. 

An airplane collects water from Lake Bemidji to fight the Eckles Township wildfire. 

Officials in Beltrami County say the cause of a wildfire near Bemidji Tuesday is "suspicious in nature," and they're seeking the public's help in identifying the potential source. 

The wildfire was reported around 3 p.m. Tuesday on the 5700 block of Radar Road West in Eckles Township. The fire "quickly spread" due to "extremely dry conditions," prompting the Minnesota DNR to issue a voluntary evacuation notice for residents in the area, the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office said in a news release Wednesday

"Not only were lives and homes threatened by this wildland fire but it also had a potential impact to farms and cropland in the area," the release said.

Dozens of firefighters responded to the scene, including 34 firefighters from the Bemidji and Solway fire departments and 50 from the Minnesota DNR. In addition to 14-plus firetrucks, three helicopters and five airplanes responded to help control the blaze by collecting water from nearby Lake Bemidji. 

Related: Boaters getting in the way of firefighting planes in Bemidji

By 6:17 p.m., the fire was contained and the voluntary evacuation order was lifted, though the area remained closed to non-residents on Wednesday as crews continue to fight hot spots and cleanup. 

The Minnesota DNR, Minnesota Fire Marshal's Office and the sheriff's office are investigating the cause of the fire, which spread to at least 75 acres. 

The sheriff's office is asking for the public's help to identify the potential source of the fire, noting they're considering it "suspicious in nature."

Anyone who lives in the area or traveled in the area before the fire started, or who saw any suspicious people or vehicles, they're asked to call the sheriff's office at 218-333-9111.

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The sheriff's office is also reminding people to be careful as drought conditions worsen with "all potential fire sources," such as warm vehicle exhaust in dry grasses, which can unintentionally spark a fire; recreational fires and construction activities.

Officials also reminding people to stay out of the way of emergency responders. The sheriff's office reported Tuesday that boaters on Lake Bemidji were in the way of airplanes attempting to collect water from the lake, which hindered firefighting efforts.

"There are many air firefighting resources positioned in Bemidji that rely on local bodies of water. If you see aircraft doing water collection on area lakes, please yield the right of way," the sheriff's office said. 

No other details were released. 

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