According to data collected by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and North Dakota Forest Service, nearly 1,400 fires have scorched more than 100,000 acres across the state since January 2021. That total, which is the equivalent of about 156 square miles, is compiled through reports from local emergency managers and 9-1-1 calls, as well as historical data from the Integrated Reporting of Wildland-Fire Information (IRWIN) system used by fire departments.
Wildfire numbers this year dramatically increased when compared to fire data from 2020. Last year, about 921 fires burned a total of 11,956 acres, most of which were human-caused. This year, however, North Dakota, feeling the effects of a devastating drought cycle, has experienced some of the driest winter and spring months in 127 years of recordkeeping. Limited moisture along with warm temperatures have increased the intensity and size of wildfires this year, according to State Forester Tom Claeys.
Most recently, several local, tribal, state and federal agencies responded to two large wildfires over the April 30 - May 2 weekend. The Roosevelt Creek Fire in the Little Missouri National Grassland, north of Medora, burned more than 4,600 acres, while another fire on the Fort Berthold Reservation, about six miles south of Mandaree, North Dakota, burned an estimated 9,800 acres.
This year, it’s imperative that we all know how to mitigate against wildfires, especially as we make plans to enjoy the summer months by recreating outside with friends and family,” Claeys said. “With Independence Day right around the corner, we need to raise awareness now to reduce wildfire risk. We all can do our part to practice fire safety and protect property and lives.”
Some fire tips from the North Dakota Forest Service include:
- Avoid or postpone burning.
- Make sure to dispose of cigarettes properly.
- Use caution with outdoor equipment. While pulling a camper, boat or trailer, remember to cross your tow chains and never park on tall, dry grass.
- If you are in an area that allows recreational fires, never leave them unattended and be sure to put them out completely.
- Remember to follow all burn bans. Additionally, fires should not be started on days with a Red Flag Warning, which is when warm temperatures, low humidity and stronger winds are forecasted to combine to produce an increased risk of fire danger.
“Our local fire departments, the North Dakota Forest Service, the North Dakota National Guard, North Dakota Civil Air Patrol, our team at the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, as well as other local, tribal, state and federal partners, have all done in exemplary job serving our communities during our response to wildfires this year. We thank all of them for their hard work and selfless service,” said North Dakota Homeland Security Director Cody Schulz. “With that said, we know that many of those firefighters on the ground have been at this for a long time and have worked some grueling hours. All North Dakotans can assist their efforts by being aware of local burn ban restrictions and following local ordinances.”
Communities also can familiarize themselves with the Fire Danger Rating, which is a daily forecast of the potential for non-agricultural grasslands to carry fire and its ability to spread. The rating contains five levels: Low, Moderate, High, Very High, and Extreme. Should a fire ignite, it is more likely that it would grow or spread during higher rating days:
- High fire danger means that all dry fuels ignite readily and fires start easily from most causes. Unattended fires are likely to escape. Fires spread rapidly and short-distance spotting is common. Fires may become serious and difficult to control.
- Very High fire danger means that fires start easily from all causes and, immediately after ignition, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity. Spot fires are a constant danger. Fires burning in light fuels may quickly develop high intensity characteristics, such as long-distance spotting and fire whirlwinds when they burn into heavier fuels.
To learn more about fire safety and to access burn ban and fire danger maps for local counties, visit the NDResponse website. Communities also can consult with their local fire department or emergency management office for the most current information regarding restrictions in their area.