Two grassfires ignite at popular hiking spots, Garvin Heights


Tiana Christen

The grassfires by Garvin Heights lookout were both caused by accidents when people were trying to burn paper. No persons were hurt from either fire.

Alek LaShomb, News Editor

Winona’s fire and police department responded to grassfires that ignited at two popular bluff hiking locations on the evening of April 6.
Winona police department patrol deputy Eric Engrav said two agency assists were requested at 7:22 p.m. near Devil’s Cave on West Lake Boulevard and 7:50 p.m. at Garvin Heights Lookout on 200 East Garvin Heights Road.
Engrav said officers have no information regarding the cause of the two fires and those associated.
“My officers went up there to direct traffic to shut down that road [leading to Garvin Heights] to help facilitate the first response by the fire department but as far as officers being present up with the fires, no. No, they were there to specifically assist the fire department’s apparatus,” Engrav said.
Assistant fire chief Jason Theusch said both fires were caused by people “carelessly burning paper.”
At Garvin Heights lookout, Theusch said a group of adolescents admitted to burning some material, however there were no suspects near the fire at Devil’s Cave when firefighters arrived on scene.
The lack of rain and humidity levels created the perfect conditions for a grassfire, Theusch said.
Theusch said fire conditions listed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the day of the two incidents cautioned a high fire danger and required permits for burning.
Necessary permits are still required for the burning of brush but Minnesota’s fire danger for Winona County has since reverted back to a low danger level.
Theusch said it took firefighters roughly an hour to extinguish flames at both locations.

“It takes a while to respond and stage resources and get resources up there,” Theusch said.
Theusch said the fire at Devil’s Cave burned 2,400 feet of land, while the Garvin Heights blaze burned 800 feet.
One of the witnesses to the Garvin Heights lookout burn was fourth-year student Tiana Christen, who is majoring in elementary education and minoring in Spanish.
Christen said she and a group of friends went to Garvin Heights to enjoy the sunset, taking a popular side path next to the lookout hoping to get the best view.
As they descended down the left-hand side path located near Garvin Height’s lookout, Christen and her group of friends encountered another group of younger adults, which consisted of roughly 10 to 15 guys and girls.
Christen said it was another 15 minutes until they became alerted to the grassfire.

“After 15 minutes, we started to hear a lot of firetrucks coming and we were getting annoyed by the noise. One of my roommates saw smoke and our first initial thought was that there was a bonfire. Once we stood on top of the bluffs, we saw smoke was coming and then we started to see the fire happening on the side of the bluff,” Christen said. “We asked the other group if they knew anything about the fire and it turned out that they caused the burn.”
The group of 10 to 15 young adults Christen and her friends encountered said they were trying to burn notes of some kind when a piece of the burning paper was blown away, creating the grassfire.
“It was an accident how the fire happened, but it was very scary in the moment,” Christen said. “They [fire starters] tried to smother it with a blanket but that didn’t work. Nobody had water, so they had to call the fire department.”
Christen said half of the suspected fire starters rushed to meet police, while the other half remained watching.
Christen said the police arrived on the scene roughly five minutes after the group called for help, with the fire department arriving shortly thereafter.
“The police did question us at the blaze. They asked if we called and we said no, then they talked to the other group of people. I just heard them talking to the group asking what happened. We heard one of the girls explain to a lone-officer what happened,” Christen said.
The Winona police department however denies any mention of suspected individuals in their incident complaint report (ICR).
As firefighters sought to stop the blaze, a strong wind maximized the fire’s radius.
“They tried to clear us off the scene when a big gust of wind came and that was when the fire picked up the most. That’s when I got more spooked. The officer recommended we leave at that point and we did,” Christen said.
The Garvin Heights and Devil’s Cave fires comes amid a time which Minnesota’s eastern neighbor, Wisconsin, has been ravaged by wildfires, with up to 1,400 acres being burnt, according to NBC News.
Theusch said the fire danger level can change day to day and that if the sun dries out the land again, more potential grassfires could occur.
Regarding advice for those having small fires, Theusch said, “you really want to try and stage. Pay attention to the burning restrictions for Winona. You really want to try and have a fire in a burning appliance with a spark arrester. Appliance has to be 10 ft from unoccupied structure and 20 ft from an occupied structure and we just recommend that you use clean dry wood. Wet wood smokes up the neighborhood. Follow the guidelines on the city website and try to be a good neighbor.”
No persons were hurt from either fire.