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Five fires over 24 hours, 'excessive' say local authorities

On Monday, a total of five fires ignited across Stark County, some due to farmers haying. Dickinson Rural Fire Chief Jeff Thompson briefs The Press on the three fires they responded to. We hear from Stark County officials Shawna Davenport and Al Hesier, who are encouraging the county commission to amend its fire ban.

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A truck from the Dickinson Rural Fire Department is shown. Five fires ignited in Stark County on Monday, a majority due to haying. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
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With severe drought conditions heavily impacting hay shortages across the state, local producers are working diligently to cut and bale enough hay to feed their livestock for the upcoming seasons amidst the Conservation Reserve Program's opening this week. However, in Stark County, four out of five fires started on Monday were directly attributed to haying.

The Dickinson Rural Fire and Rescue Department responded to three fires on Monday, Aug. 2, on 107th Avenue, 116th Avenue and north of Highway 22, while the Richardton Rural Fire Department responded to two other fires in Stark County on the same day.

Of the three fires the Dickinson Rural Fire and Rescue Department were called to, two were ignited by machinery involved in haying. The other fire was a result of a garbage pit that was ignited and remains under investigation, according to Administrative Chief Jeff Thompson.

“(The fires) were kind of small. But of course, our definition of small compared to the public’s can be different,” Thompson said. “Our largest one was 10 acres; that’s not very big. They are becoming harder to extinguish again as we dry out… We did have one baler that did burn up. It was the cause of one of the fires so we did lose that piece of equipment. It’s really weird because 10 acres sounds a lot to the public, but it can be a smaller fire depending on so many circumstances.”

During Tuesday’s Stark County Commission meeting, Stark County Road Superintendent Al Heiser noted that five fires in one day is a bit out of control. Heiser, who's also notified the same time rural fire departments receive fire calls, makes sure there is someone available to take a water truck out. When rural fire departments run out of water, the Stark County Road Department brings additional resources to help fire crews.

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"I drop everything and run when there's a rural fire, because if you're ever out in a rural fire and watch these guys work as hard as they do with bale fires and roll bales out, I have a lot of respect for rural firefighters," Heiser said. "... A lot of times, we'll send a truck ahead even if we don't know if they need it or not because every minute that a fire (burns) is very crucial to running out of water."

The county also has approximately 10 frac tanks — each holding 22,000 gallons of water — that are distributed across the area to assist fire crews during those calls as well, Heiser added.

Stark County Emergency Services Director Shawna Davenport added, “It seems like every day we’re at least getting one or two fires. But five, that was excessive… And their resources depleted a lot faster. And with the drought and no moisture, things are spreading a lot faster as well. The concern is obviously there and that’s kind of what was brought forth at the meeting.”

The baler is a complete loss, Thompson said, that the cost of the equipment loss is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000. However, replacement cost for that producer is most likely higher than that estimate, he added.

“We lost a little bit of wind row but that’s kind of hard to figure out (and) how much loss there really is, especially in a drought year. Even the standing grass to them — since they’re trying to hay it — is lost hay,” Thompson said.

Though it’s difficult to estimate current tonnage amounts, Thompson said that the Dickinson Rural Fire and Rescue Department reports $100 per acre burnt. So with the 10-acre burnt field, fire personnel reported it as $1,000 loss of feed.

Thompson noted that the producers had fire protection on site while haying — which made a big difference in keeping the flames small, a sentiment shared by Richardton Fire Chief Jason Kostelecky.

The two fires Richardton fire crews responded to were also relatively small with one being about three acres and the other approximately the size of a vehicle,” Kostelecky said.

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“We were very fortunate because in both instances, the farmers/ranchers were able to get them extinguished before we arrived. A lot of them are bringing water trucks with them to the fields; they’ve kind of put together their own firefighting apparatus. So it really helps,” Kostelecky said.

On average, it takes rural fire crews 20 minutes to respond, Kostelecky said, explaining that if people are able to help mitigate fire conditions until fire personnel, it will decrease the possibility of the fire from spreading.

The Stark County Commission amended its burn ban Tuesday, stating, “The change made reflects that the burn ban is now in effect when the North Dakota Rangeland Rangeland fire rating is in the moderate (added), high, very high or extreme category, a red flag warning has been issued for Stark County or determined necessary by the emergency manager.”

Burning will only be allowed in the low (green) fire rating category, according to a Stark County Emergency Services Facebook post on Wednesday.

“I think our weather is turning. I think this is going to be the beginning. We’re going to start our fall season pretty hard, I think,” Thompson added.

Jackie Jahfetson is a graduate of Northern Michigan University whose journalism path began in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a freelancer for The Daily Mining Gazette. Her previous roles include editor-in-chief at The North Wind and reporter at The Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. Raised on a dairy farm, she immediately knew Dickinson would be her first destination west as she focuses on gaining aptitude for ranch life, crop farming and everything agriculture. She covers hard news stories centered on government, fires, crime and education. When not fulfilling deadlines and attending city commission meetings, she is a budding musician and singer.
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