Spring is here and with it comes a temperatures, fierce sunlight and high winds. Those are prime conditions for wildfire season.
The two large fires in Harding County over the last three weeks was a disastrous reminder that this is an area that faces the continual risk of fires.
The current long-range forecast for spring into summer calls for normal precipitation and above normal temperatures in the southwest part of the state.
The conditions promote wildfires because the area doesn’t have much moisture in the forecast as it experienced a relatively dry winter so there’s plenty of “fuel” in the area.
Fuel for wildfires in the area is typically dry brush and standing sweet clover stalks, which have a tendency to burn quite hot, Pearson said.
What makes this year unique is that the local annual vegetative growth is short, only about 18 inches high, but the area is filled with tall stalks of sweet clover, about five to six feet high, due to a good sweet clover year in 2014.
Wildfires could burn across a green field without ever stopping by burning these stalks and staying above the greens.
High winds make a wildfire even more difficult to control. The fire creates its own wind, combined with wind pushing it — high winds will cause a fire to burn what is readily available and keep moving.
With its rugged terrain, a large amount of fuel and damp creeks that act as barriers when driving in fire engines, the area most at risk are the Badlands at the west edge of the county. Fires there sometimes have to be left to burn before fire crews can respond to the scene.
Farm ground doesn’t have a lot of fuel lying around other than on fence lines because everything has either been broken up or harvested. And it’s readily accessible to fire engines and plows.
Historically, fires in southwest North Dakota have remained small, with a few notable exceptions. They’ve been usually active in Bowman County until the last three or four years when the area experienced unusually high amounts of moisture.
The massive fire that swept through the tiny Adams County town of Bucyrus in the summer of 2012 claimed several of its buildings and required the resources of several area fire departments. The fire burned along the railroad tracks and Highway 12.
One small ember started that fire and ultimately caused a lot of devastation.
The largest fire in recent southwest North Dakota history, according to Pearson, was in 2004. Just west of Amidon in Slope County, a large-scale wildfire claimed a lot of areas and trees at the Burning Coal Vein Campground.
There were also some larger fires in the late 1970s.
Pearson’s office issues local burn bans to help combat the potential for wildfires, but they are sometimes superseded by burn bans initiated by the governor, which is the case with the current ban.
During that time, all open burning is banned. If there are any damages that occur if a person starts a fire, they are liable. Though, not many wildfires have been started by a person unless it was done unintentionally, Pearson said.