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Local counties instate burn bans early due to dry winter

With relatively dry conditions this winter, the chance for a fire getting out of control are unusually high.

This has prompted some counties to either install or retain burn bans throughout the winter that restrict open burning activity.

This includes Morton County, which declared a fire emergency and subsequent ban in effect Thursday. Burleigh and Emmons counties followed suit Friday.

The decisions follow a controlled burn that got out of control north of Bismarck on Thursday, which burned around 60 acres.

Stark County Emergency Manager Bill Fahlsing said he was planning on taking the ban before the Stark County Commission during its next meeting on April 5. He said his office had sent a copy of the proposed declaration to all the fire chiefs in the county.

For the moment, however, he said there is none in place for the county.

Burn bans are usually determined by an index distributed by the Missoula Fire Science Lab in Montana. The lab rates the risk of certain areas with information fed from local agencies, of which "high," "very high," "extreme" and "red flag warning" ratings necessitate a ban.

Ilene Hardmeyer, the emergency manager for Hettinger County, said the county commissioners there were going to institute their burn ban on Thursday at a meeting, but one of them was not present. She said they would reconvene to institute it Monday.

Hardmeyer said the fire risk "kind of caught up" with residents simply because it is still the winter season. She described conditions being very dry, with the presence of wind adding to the risk.

"This morning (the fire risk index rating) was 'very high,'" she said.

Pat Rummel, the emergency manager of Billings County, said his county decided to leave its burn ban in place due to this winter's dry conditions. It helps keep people aware and cautious when they want to burn, he said.

Rummel said county residents are requested to inform their local fire department or the Billings County Sheriff's Department before doing a controlled burn.

Dunn County voted to reinstate its burn ban March 2, which county Emergency Manager Denise Brew said was on cue with the U.S. Forest Service's retainment of its own ban throughout the winter.

Adams County Emergency Manager Michele Gaylord said her county doesn't have their burn ban in place because they normally install their ban on April 1, when fire season officially begins as described by the Forest Service.

However, she said there are restrictions in place, and residents are still advised to call local authorities before burning.

Gaylord said she observed that Harding and Perkins counties, just south of the border in South Dakota, have been listed in the "high" to "very high" realm of fire risk.

"We're probably pretty close to that, too," she said.

Like Rummel, she advised residents to call their local authorities before attempting any open burning.

Three years ago, a prescribed burn in the Grand River National Grasslands of Perkins County ended up scorching more than 14,000 acres of federal and private land after a prescribed burn got out of control following a dry winter.

Andrew Wernette

Wernette came to The Dickinson Press from his home state of Michigan in April 2015 as reporter for the newspaper's energy, political, crime, courts and cops beats. Before The Press, Wernette worked at his university's newspaper as a section editor, as well as interned at a local county paper as a reporter. Outside of work, he enjoys reading, writing, cooking, taking a stroll and planning his next world travel adventure.

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