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Authorities urge residents to be cautious of fire dangers

Heavy levels of moisture have reduced wildfire risks on the Western Edge compared with most years, yet emergency management officials are cautioning residents to be prudent and take basic preventative measures.

Wood fire in the backyard fire pit
Western Edge fire departments are warning residents be cautious of fire dangers.
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DICKINSON — While burning isn’t outright banned in southwest North Dakota, a common occurance on the Western Edge, the current fire danger rating of moderate is present throughout much of the state. Officials are warning residents to wait for moisture before lighting a fire.

Sarah Duttenhefner, Dunn County emergency manager, said residents should be especially cautious with large fires, such as garbage pits.

“It might be better to wait until after the snow flies,” Duttenhefner said. “There might be better opportunities later for those types of fires.”

As of Tuesday, Stark, Dunn, Slope, Hettinger, Bowman and Adams Counties had a fire safety rating of moderate, according to the ND Response website. When in the moderate category, those planning a fire are strongly advised to monitor it, contain it in a fire ring or remove organic material from the immediate area and have basic hand tools available for quick response, according to the website.

Taylor Rural Fire Protection District Chief Jake Peterson said even if the fire danger index is low, it’s important to look at weather forecast for the next several days.

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“It's just as important as what it is today, because if they light a pit because it's beautiful today, and it's in low or moderate, and the next three days they're calling for lots of wind, there's 0% chance that that pit is gonna be out within the next four to 14 days,” Peterson said.

Duttenhefner said it’s possible that the fire danger rating may soon be updated to high or more, since rain is not expected in the near future.

“It's definitely a possibility,” Duttenhefner said. “Our drought index is increasing, meaning that we're drier than normal, which also increases our risk for fire danger. The fire index is based on vegetation, temperature, wind and humidity. So with it being drier, that causes more issues or possibilities of fire.”

She warned outdoorsmen to avoid parking in tall grass, as the heat from a vehicle's undercarriage can spark a blaze. For more obvious reason, lit cigarette butts should not be thrown on the ground. Those planning controlled burns should be prepared with large quantities of water in case it gets out of control, she added. Duttenhefner urged drivers to call 911 if they see an unmonitored fire, and advised that callers should be ready to provide an accurate description of the location.

“We've been very lucky,” Peterson said. “A lot of it comes down to people that are burning are calling chiefs and they're looking ahead at the weather, and they're being conscientious about making sure that their fire is out before they ever leave it.”

An average of 1,800 fire incidents are recorded in the Roughrider State every year. Campfires should be built away from leaves and dry grass, where they're less likely to spread. When barbecuing, do not wear loose clothing. For more fire safety tips check out the state government's website https://ndresponse.gov/public-awareness/fire-safety.

Those who are planning a fire should check in with appropriate authorities ahead of time, such as the local fire department, emergency management or dispatch. In the Dickinson area, those planning controlled burns should notify local dispatch by calling 701-456-7759.

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Ashley Koffler is a Killdeer, North Dakota native and Dickinson State University graduate, with a Bachelor’s Degree in writing, and minors in journalism and psychology. Formerly working in Community Affairs for Roosevelt Custer Regional Council for Development, her reporting focuses on the Dickinson city government, community features, business and agriculture — among others.
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