Following a Tuesday grass fire that scorched approximately 320 acres, fire personnel continue to investigate the cause and are encouraging southwestern North Dakotans to be cautious as critical fire weather conditions continue.

Fire crews were dispatched to a grass fire at 2:40 p.m. on Tuesday, east of Dunn Center to the intersection of 94th Avenue and Highway 200. The cause of the fire is still unknown and remains under investigation, Halliday Fire District Chief Trevor Hauck said.

“Upon arrival with a couple units getting on scene, we noticed that we needed mutual aid because of the dry conditions and the wind. It got rather large,” Hauck said, adding that he requested assistance from the West Dunn Fire District.

About eight Halliday units, seven West Dunn units and three Dunn County tankers were used to contain the spread, Hauck noted. Firefighters worked for approximately 4.5 hours until the fire was contained by 7 p.m.; the scene was cleared by 7:30 p.m.

The Dunn County Sheriff’s Office were also dispatched to the scene to redirect traffic. After a vehicle crashed due to the heavy smoke, deputies temporarily shut the highway down because the road became impassable for civilian traffic, according to a Dunn County Sheriff's Office Facebook post. After a couple of hours, the sheriff's office reopened the lanes once the smoke subsided.

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With dry conditions persistent throughout much of western North Dakota, Hauck urged residents to be mindful of fire risks. Drivers hauling trailers should make sure their safety chains aren’t dragging on the asphalt or concrete because the resulting sparks can cause fires, he noted.

“Just watch what you’re doing and if you see smoke, call it in right away,” he said.

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) — which is an extension of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — currently designates two thirds of Dunn County, the north and east portions, with a D3 or "extreme drought" classification, according to the NIDIS website.

"Crops stop growing, pastures go dormant, emergency haying of conservation areas is authorized, blue-green algae blooms cause cattle death and large wildfires burn," an NIDIS statement read on its website.

The southwest third of Dunn County and most of Stark County are under the less severe D2 classification of "severe drought." Under these conditions, "Soil moisture is low, pasture and rangeland is dry, crop conditions are poor, hay yields are low and cattle are sold. Open burn and firework restrictions are implemented; fire activity intensifies. Conditions are dusty and air quality is poor."

NIDIS reports that Stark and Dunn counties have received 3.12 and 3.49 fewer inches than its average amount of rainfall by this point in the year. The figures based on 127 years of recorded data. Yet, according to the Bismarck National Weather Service (BNWS), wetter and cooler days are on the horizon.

"After widespread rain chances this upcoming weekend, we are expecting more precipitation next week, with increasing confidence in a storm system through the Dakotas midweek," a BNWS Facebook post read.

Bismarck meteorologists predict that temperatures will likely fall below average in western half of the state and rise above average toward eastern North Dakota.