Air quality in western North Dakota severely impacted by wild fires

Montana's beautiful summers come with increased incidence of wildfires, and residents in Dickinson awoke to smoke filled skies on Friday.

Smoke from wild fires descended on Dickinson on Friday, July 30. (Courtesy of Kevin Lawrence)

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, 64 uncontrolled fires are ravaging the western portion of the United States and winds are carrying the smoke eastward.

The Air Quality Index, released by the North Dakota’s Environmental Division of Air Quality, shows much of the state in the “unhealthy” range, while western North Dakota is listed as “hazardous” — the lowest level of air quality conditions listed.

In Stark County on Friday, the air quality was listed as 183 with advisories for people with heart or lung diseases, older adults, children and teens to avoid strenuous outdoor activities and for entities to consider moving physical activities indoors or to reschedule them.

Wild fire smoke engulfs much of North Dakota, with aerial shots from Williston, Dickinson, Minot and Bismarck highlighting the visibility and air quality concerns. (Courtesy of Kevin Lawrence)


Meterologist Kevin Lawrence, with KFYR, posted on social media that the visibility in some parts of Dickinson is down to a mile or two in some places.

“This is the worst I’ve seen in a long time,” Lawrence said. “Very thick unhealthy smoke continues across North Dakota and surrounding states. Surface winds today are bringing thicker smoke from South Dakota, but the smoke itself originated mostly from western states.”

Lawrence said he sees air quality improvement over the weekend, but expects skies to remain hazy.

According to data collected by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and North Dakota Forest Service, persistent dry weather is being attributed to nearly 1,700 fires that have scorched more than 112,000 acres across the state since January 2021. That total, which is the equivalent of about 170 square miles, is compiled through reports from local emergency managers and 911 calls, as well as historical data from the Integrated Reporting of Wildland-Fire Information (IRWIN) system used by fire departments.

The Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport’s Airport Manager Kelly Braun said that current conditions have not impacted operations, but that the conditions were being monitored.

Visibility according to the airport’s Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS), a broadcast that contains essential information, such as current weather information, active runways, available approaches, and any other information required by the pilots, reports skies as hazy with visibility of 1.75 miles.

“It would have to get so bad that our visibility would be less than a mile,” he said. “Once visibility is less than a mile then that would impact our commercial flights for sure.”

To learn more about fire safety and to access burn ban and fire danger maps for local counties, visit the NDResponse website at Communities also can consult with their local fire department or emergency management office for the most current information regarding restrictions in their area.

James B. Miller, Jr. is the Editor of The Dickinson Press in Dickinson, North Dakota. He strives to bring community-driven, professional and hyper-local focused news coverage of southwest North Dakota.
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