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Sarah Smith, Forum News Service, Published May 16 2013

Calming winds helping fight Park Rapids-area fire that has burned 55 buildings

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. - Calm winds were allowing 40-some fire departments to get control of a wildfire that has scorched more than 7,100 acres in three counties.

“We’ll make a lot progress today,” said Mike Aultman, incident commander of the Green Valley Fire that has burned 12 homes and 43 other buildings between Menahga and Park Rapids.

Evacuees were to be allowed to return to their homes in the area starting at noon today. The fire is regarded as only 25 percent contained.

Essentially, a nine-mile swath through Becker, Hubbard and Wadena counties is surrounded by heavy equipment and trenches.

Firefighters are moving from hot spot to hot spot, dousing or containing the fires in that bulldozed perimeter.

“We absolutely do not want to lose any more personal property,” DNR public information volunteer Ron Sanow said at this morning’s media briefing.

Air and ground attacks on the continue, but in some cases it means letting flames burn.

Sightseers were a problem Thursday and Hubbard County Emergency Management Director Brian Halbasch was asking the public to stay out of the burned area through the weekend.

“It’s been a traffic nightmare,” he said. Roads that can barely accommodate an emergency vehicle have been clogged with sightseers. Those roads are getting beaten up by traffic and pose an additional hazard, he said.

Sanow said he had no clue how many people were evacuated when the blaze began Tuesday afternoon in Becker County.

“Evacuation took place under chaos,” he said. “I don’t have a good solid number.”