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Local firefighters responding to grass fires

Farmington firefighters work to put out a grass fire Wednesday. It's the second time in a week firefighters have been to this particular property. A recreational fire was to blame for both fires.

These days, just about everyone wants things to start turning green outside. Farmington firefighters want that, too -- but for a different reason.

In the past week, the local firefighters have responded to six grass fires. Nine grass or brush fires, technically, since March 17, but six of them were between April 7 and April 14. Of those nine, six have been in Empire township, the other three in the city of Farmington.

Farmington fire marshal John Powers says the causes of those fire include one that was intentionally set without a permit, one that had a permit and let the fire get out of control and several where he has not been able to determine a cause. Most of those, he said, have been roadside fires.

He said cigarettes tossed from the windows of passing cars, "would be the most likely cause" of those roadside fires. Most cigarettes are designed to self-extinguish when people are not smoking them. When a cigarette is tossed from a window, the wind hits it as it falls and actually heats the cigarette up, Powers said. That makes it hotter when it hits the ground. With the dead, dry grass and weeds in those ditches fires can start easily.

"The tops of brown grass are very dry, and the vegetation hasn't turned green yet," Powers said. "It's an extreme fire hazard for this time of the year,"

Besides recommending that smokers use their car's ashtrays instead of the roadside, Powers tells people to be careful with their recreational fires and open burns.

"Use extreme caution when lighting them, especially in windy conditions. And pay attention to them. The biggest issue with open burning this time of the year is that people aren't paying attention to it, and it can cause a lot of damage," he said.

Grass and brush fires can also be dangerous for firefighters. Often, firefighters are walking on uneven terrain and concentrating on spraying the fire, not watching where they step, so sprains and falls can easily happen.

The problem is not unique to this area. On April 11, every fire department in Dakota County responded to a grass or brush fire.

"It's not just an isolated issue," Powers said.