What started as a grass fire Monday afternoon erupted into a fast-moving wildfire that came within two miles of a small town in northwest Minnesota.
Now dubbed the Oxcart Fire, this wildfire rapidly spread and has now scorched an estimated 12,907 acres. The fire is 40% contained, though additional containment progress could be made Wednesday as winds have died down and cooler temperatures are encompassing the state.
Leanne Langberg of the Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) told Bring Me The News that drier and windier conditions are expected in the coming days, meaning fire crews will continue to treat hot spots in an effort to prevent the fire from escaping containment.
Numerous aircraft and a dozen local fire departments have tirelessly worked to contain the blaze, with fire crews focusing their energy on establishing a containment line and protecting structures. The east edge of the wildfire came within two miles of Mentor, a town of just over 200 residents in Polk County.
The Oxcart Fire started in dry grassland within the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge on Monday, which due to dry conditions, very low humidity, warm temps and strong winds was a perfect day for rapid fire growth.
The fire started near U.S. Highway 2, with smoke and fire progression prompting law enforcement to temporarily close stretches of Highways 2, 32 and 45 near the fire.
At nearly 13,000 acres burned, the Oxcart Fire is the largest wildfire in Minnesota in nearly a decade.
"Comparatively we are seeing similar wildfire conditions to 2012 wildfire season," said Langeberg. "That year the Wannaska Complex burned 32,239 acres between September 29, 2012 through October 2, 2012. It was a combination of four fires in the Warroad areas."
In 2011, a lightning strike ignited a fire that wound up burning 93,000 acres in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Travelers near Mentor should expect to see fire equipment active in the area in the coming days. In the meantime, Langeberg says people should avoid burning where fire conditions are still high – which is nearly the entire state.