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Countywide burning ban system launched

Spring is a time when grass fires can spread. Take all precautions when burning and “stay close to your fires and ensure they remain under control,” County Emergency Support Services Director Stephen T’Kach said. (File Photo)

St. Croix County officials know dry conditions will likely return here, in spite of a soaking rain that dowsed much of the area on Tuesday.

When they do, the county will have a new resource — the Red Flag alert system — to handle widespread burning bans.

St. Croix County Emergency Support Services Director Stephen T’Kach announced the plan Monday.

“We are just entering our critical spring grass fire season and any dry spell will greatly increase conditions for fire dangers,” he said in a news release.

Notification procedures are being formulated through the county’s Emergency Communications Center, though T’Kach said the Code Red notification system will be involved in spreading the word.

Residents can register for Code Red alerts — which send public safety notifications via phone, text and email — at the St. Croix County website.

The announcement puts into effect an agreement among county fire chiefs for a countywide burning ban on days when the National Weather Service issues a Red Flag warning for St. Croix County. The warnings are issued when weather conditions present “extreme burning conditions” within 24 hours of the alert, according to the release.

That occurs when an area has been in a dry spell for about a week and the National Fire Danger Rating System is rated high — combined with a forecast for sustained 15 mph wind speeds, low humidity and temperatures in excess of 75. Dry spring conditions are also among the criteria.

T’Kach said the system shores up holes in burning ban procedure that sometimes allows fires in one area of a county, but not another.

“Worse yet, there were both burning areas and no burning areas within some of the same fire districts,” T’Kach said.

The area has already seen numerous grass fires in 2016, he said, adding that St. Croix County received more than 100 calls last weekend for burning permits.

T’Kach expected the Red Flag bans to be “very rare,” noting that fewer than three such warnings were issued in 2015 for St. Croix County.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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