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Drought and burn restrictions could block fireworks next month

Burn bans and restrictions across North Dakota may prevent Fourth of July fireworks in some counties. More than half of the state has issued county or tribal burn restrictions, according to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services websit...

County burn bans may restrict firework use on the Fourth of July. iStock Photo
County burn bans may restrict firework use on the Fourth of July. iStock Photo

Burn bans and restrictions across North Dakota may prevent Fourth of July fireworks in some counties.

More than half of the state has issued county or tribal burn restrictions, according to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services website.

While a few counties follow the daily fire danger rating to determine whether burn restrictions are in place that day, others have banned fireworks this year regardless.

Stark, Dunn, Golden Valley, Morton, McIntosh, Emmons, Burleigh and Adams Counties have currently banned all fireworks regardless of the fire danger rating, according to the NDDES site. Other counties, such as Hettinger and McKenzie County, have burn restrictions in place so that burning is not allowed when the rating is "high," "very high" and "extreme."

Some emergency managers are worried about the holiday weekend. People disregarding the restrictions face a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $1,500 or 30 days in jail.

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Though the state did see some rain this weekend, it was not enough to end some of the bans in southwest North Dakota.

"Yes, there was rain received, but as far as blanketing the whole county and preventing from danger, we are not there," said Denise Brew, Dunn County emergency manager. "To me it's very important and I know we're headed into Fourth of July week, which is a big one for fireworks, but we're not going to have them. It's not going to be allowed, it's too dangerous."

Dunn County had a fire in the Badlands Sunday evening. Both the responders and the property owner agreed had there not been any rain this past weekend, the fire could have gotten out of hand quickly, Brew said. They were able to put it out without any major threat to homes or other structures. Spots in the Badlands in Dunn and Billings Counties may be especially concerning because they are so difficult to get to.

Billings County Sheriff and Emergency Manager Pat Rummel said his county issued a burn ban on May 2 that follows the fire rating, so restrictions are in place when the rating exceeds "moderate." When the rating reaches "high" or above, the ban stipulates:

• No travel off surfaced roadways except as necessary for farmers, ranchers or industry operations.

• Industrial crews, farmers and ranchers need to have fire extinguishers and normal firefighting equipment at hand and remain on the site 30 minutes after operations are completed.

• Smoking is restricted to inside buildings or vehicles.

• Bans open burning including fireworks, garbage and pit burning and campfires.

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Rummel also said he was concerned around the holiday that people would light off fireworks in more remote areas in the county, which would take fire departments longer to respond to.

Karolin Jappe, McKenzie County Emergency Manager, checks the fire index every morning to let people know whether the county's burn restrictions are in place - a practice she will continue all summer.

Residents are required to apply for a burn permit before burning. After approval, the resident has 60 days to light a single fire on a day that permits burning, meaning when the rating is "moderate" or lower. She also asks the applicant to call the sheriff's office and let them know about the burn one or two hours prior. McKenzie County has seven volunteer fire departments, so it is important for them to know where controlled burns are, she said.

"Since the oilfield started, there's a lot of people who just burn everything, I mean mattresses, you name it, and some of that stuff is so toxic that they're hurting themselves," Jappe said. "That's what we're trying to prevent to keep everybody safe."

Brew said some people had asked her why farmers were still allowed to bale hay despite the restrictions, but she noted additional restrictions would affect their livelihoods. Most farmers carry gallon jugs of water or fire extinguishers this time of year and many now have cell phones, she said. She asked that they call 911 immediately if they see smoke rather than attempting first to put it out themselves, noting it is better to get help on the way as quickly as possible just in case.

In the meantime, she hopes for a "six-day rain soaker" to decrease the threat of uncontrollable fires.

"It's for the betterment of all of us, it really is. I don't want to see or make the news that we had 3,000 acres burn up because we went and allowed fireworks," Brew said. "... This is not by any means being done to destroy anybody's Fourth of July. It is absolutely a protection thing. We're trying to protect and preserve our county."

Related Topics: FIRES
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