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Sheriff's office: Woman cooking maple syrup starts grass fire

It's been a destructive fire season in Minnesota so far this year.

A woman who was cooking maple syrup over a fire in Stearns County has been cited after a nearby field and swamp caught fire. 

The grass fire was reported at 12:41 p.m. on Saturday, April 3, on the 20100 block of County Road 156 in Albany Township, with the caller saying a pasture was on fire and moving toward nearby homes, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office said in an April 6 news release.

Officials determined the 41-year-old homeowner had started a fire in a fire pit to cook maple syrup. But wind caused the fire to escape, catching a nearby field and swamp on fire. 

The homeowner tried to put the fire out with a hose she had nearby, but couldn't contain it. Fire departments from Albany and Avon contained and extinguished the fire before it damaged nearby homes. 

The homeowner was cited for burning during a burning ban, the sheriff's office said. 

Stearns County is currently among the dozens of Minnesota counties that have burning restrictions amid the warmer-than-average temperatures and early snowmelt this spring, which have caused drought conditions across much of the stateaccording to the Minnesota DNR's website

“Warm and dry conditions are key factors for wildfires, so we have to remain on alert about restricting open burning,” Casey McCoy, DNR fire prevention supervisor, said in a statement Monday. “These restrictions really do work: they’ve helped reduce wildfires by more than 30% over the past decade.”

Seventy-five percent of Minnesota's wildfires occur in the months of March, April and May, after the snow melts and before things "green up," the DNR says. And the majority of the state's wildfires are caused by people.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire danger in Minnesota was listed as high or very high. But much-needed rain this week should help "green up" the dry grasses that have served as fuel for wildfires in Minnesota and Wisconsin as of late

Thousands of acres have burned in wildfires in Minnesota in the past week, with the state seeing one of its largest wildfires in nearly a decade when a blaze scorched around 13,000 acres in northwestern Minnesota. 

“Every spring, we see a rise in wildfire activity as the snowpack melts and leaves behind dry vegetation like grasses, leaves, and needles,” Leanne Langeberg, public information officer with the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, said in a statement on April 4. “We left last fall in abnormally dry conditions in Northeast Minnesota. Snow totals were less than normal, and lack of measurable precipitation has left us in a persistent dry pattern.”

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, conditions are so bad that the governor has declared a state of emergency. The state says more than 320 wildfires have been reported this year.  

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