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Stark and Dunn counties declare burn ban

Stark and Dunn counties declared a burn ban this week due to the dry weather conditions and lack of rain. iStock Photo

A burn ban has been put in place for all of Stark and Dunn counties, meaning only appliances burning natural gas or propane can be used outdoors.

No materials may be burned that would produce ash or embers—such as campfires, controlled burns or smokers—in either county because of the dry weather conditions and potential for a fire to spread.

Most of western North Dakota faces "abnormally dry" conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor as of May 30, while the more central part of the state faces the more severe "moderate drought" conditions. This rating will be updated Thursday morning.

Stark County has followed this fire rating for the past six years, but recently amended the county's policy to allow the emergency manager to issue a burn ban if he decides the conditions differ from the fire rating, which comes from a fire science center in Missoula, Mont., said Bill Fahlsing, Stark County emergency manager. Fahlsing and Stark County fire chiefs decided to implement the burn ban on Monday.

Failure to comply could result in a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine up to $1,500 or 30 days in jail.

"Normally the burn ban follows the fire rating when it's in the high, very high, extreme and/or the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning," he said. "But there was concern with the fire rating system not always matching the conditions that we are actually experiencing out here in western North Dakota."

Jeff Schild, the lead forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Bismarck, said Stark County has had only 2.79 inches of precipitation this year, which is down from the normal amount of 5.72 inches at this point. Last year the county had 4.44 inches of precipitation by this time.

Medora has had 3.27 inches of precipitation this year as of Wednesday, Bowman 4.78 inches, Hettinger 3.89 inches and Taylor 2.71 inches. There's a slight chance of thunderstorms this weekend and a better chance in the middle of next week, Schild said.

Dunn County issued its burn ban Wednesday morning, said Denise Brew, Dunn County emergency manager. On Sunday afternoon, fire departments responded to a barrel burn in Dunn County that got out of hand. One woman began burning her trash in a barrel that morning and then left the fire unattended. After dinner, she realized her entire yard was on fire, Brew said.

"It scared them, it scared the lady, and we're verbally sharing that right now that it's not safe out there right now, it just really isn't," she said. "It might look green, but it was going across green grass, and it burned."

The grass is drier as a result of the lack of rain and dry conditions, as evidenced by farmers baling their hay three weeks before they normally do, Brew said. The fire rating is based on native vegetation and does not factor in cropland, Fahlsing said. It also factors in how quickly a fire can spread rather than how easily it can start.

Residents in counties outside of Stark and Dunn counties should also keep an eye on the fire rating and ask their county's emergency manager about the burn conditions, said Dickinson Fire Marshal Mark Selle.

John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, asked residents to use common sense whenever lighting fires — even if there is not a burn ban in place.

"When the wind is blowing at 20 or 30 miles an hour, it's not the time to start a fire in a barrel," Martin said. "It's not the time to walk away from a camp fire."

Some large pit fires may have been lit earlier in the year and are still burning. Todd Ehresmann, Dickinson Rural Fire chief, said trees in these pits can take months to burn, even if they are buried underground. He advised those in the county with controlled fire pits that are still burning to keep a close eye on them and add water and dirt if they start to smolder.

"The biggest thing with pits, if they start them today, a month down the road they're still burning," he said. "They never seem to go out in the fire pit. They're always hot somewhere once they're buried."

There have been no severe fires in Stark County so far this year, though there have been some in the past, Ehresmann said. In October 2012, a fire that burned nearly 6,000 acres destroyed four homes in Bucyrus, The Press reported.

Fourth of July fireworks may be another concern if it does not rain soon, Brew said.

"We are at that point right now where unless we get some soakers, I'm going to be the most un-favorite lady in Dunn County because I'm going to be the one, 'Well, she said no burning, no fireworks,'" she said. "That's just the nature of the ballgame unless something changes."

Go online to for more information regarding local fire conditions. When the ban is lifted, Stark County asks residents to call 701-456-7759 to ask permission before starting a controlled burn so the nearest fire department can be notified. Brew asked Dunn County residents with questions to call her at 701-290-1769.

"We're really not putting this burn ban in effect to ruin anybody's weekend camping or whatnot," Fahlsing said. "This really is a preventative measure. We're not putting the burn ban on and walking away. We're in constant communication with the fire departments monitoring weather conditions. As soon as conditions are favorable that we can go back to the fire rating and allow burning, we will absolutely do that."