Wildfires burn more than 100,000 acres across North Dakota so far in 2021
According to data collected by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and the North Dakota Forest Service, nearly 1,400 fires have scorched more than 100,000 acres across the state since January 2021. That total, which is the equivalent of about 156 square miles, is compiled through reports from local and tribal emergency managers and 9-1-1 calls, as well as historical data from the Integrated Reporting of Wildland-Fire Information (IRWIN) system used by fire departments.
Wildfire numbers this year dramatically increased when compared to fire data from 2020. Last year, about 921 fires burned a total of 11,956 acres, most of which were human-caused. This year, however, North Dakota, feeling the effects of a devastating drought cycle, has experienced some of the driest winter and spring months in 127 years of recordkeeping. Limited moisture along with warm temperatures have increased the intensity and size of wildfires this year, according to State Forester Tom Claeys.
Most recently, several local, tribal, state and federal agencies responded to two large wildfires over the April 30 - May 2 weekend. The Roosevelt Creek Fire in the Little Missouri National Grassland, north of Medora, burned more than 4,600 acres, while another fire on the Fort Berthold Reservation, about six miles south of Mandaree, North Dakota, burned an estimated 9,800 acres.
“This year, it’s imperative that we all know how to mitigate against wildfires, especially as we make plans to enjoy the summer months by recreating outside with friends and family,” Claeys said.
“Our local fire departments, the North Dakota Forest Service, the North Dakota National Guard, North Dakota Civil Air Patrol, our team at the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, as well as other local, tribal, state and federal partners, have all done in exemplary job serving our communities during our response to wildfires this year. We thank all of them for their hard work and selfless service,” said North Dakota Homeland Security Director Cody Schulz. “With that said, we know that many of those firefighters on the ground have been at this for a long time and have worked some grueling hours. All North Dakotans can assist their efforts by being aware of local burn ban restrictions and following local ordinances.”
Burgum urges USDA Secretary to provide flexibility in use of CRP acres to help ND ranchers fighting drought
In a video call June 16, Gov. Doug Burgum urged U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to provide additional flexibility with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for North Dakota ranchers who are dealing with reduced feed availability due to extreme drought conditions across North Dakota.
The governor’s request, made during preparation for the Western Governors’ Association 2021 Annual Meeting on June 30-July 1, supports a letter sent by North Dakota’s congressional delegation to Vilsack this week urging him to allow emergency haying and grazing of CRP acres prior to Aug. 1.
Burgum shared with Vilsack that fall 2020 through spring 2021 was the driest on record in North Dakota since recordkeeping began 127 years ago, and more than 100,000 acres, or 156 square miles of the state, have already burned this year in wildfires.
“Providing additional flexibility to allow CRP acres to be used for grazing and haying before Aug. 1 will give ranchers access to that additional feed before it loses its nutritional value and help producers preserve their herds,” Burgum said. “As a state, we are committed to addressing the drought with a whole-of-government response to provide assistance and relief for farmers and ranchers facing these devastatingly dry conditions.”
Burgum, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and other state officials hosted a town hall meeting June 17 in Washburn and similar meetings in Rugby and Medora June 18 to discuss drought conditions and response. The meetings were open to the public and were livestreamed on the governor’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GovernorDougBurgum.
Mitigation Matters: HAZMAT spills and protecting north Dakota
Written by M. Cole Baker, National Flood Insurance Program coordinator for the N.D. State Water Commission and former contingency planner of NDDES
Some might think to themselves, “I don’t deal with hazardous materials in my day-to-day life” or ask, “Why would I need to know about hazardous materials? I am not at risk of being exposed to them.” This is far from the truth.
For example, when you get into your vehicle and turn it on, that machine is being run by a hazardous material, which, of course, is gasoline. Hazardous materials (HAZMAT) are substances posing an unreasonable risk to safety and health, the environment and the property of North Dakota citizens. The term hazardous materials encompasses a vast array of products, from the relatively innocuous types, such as creosote, to highly toxic or poisonous types, such as anhydrous ammonia. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration designates nine categories of hazardous materials as follows:
- Explosives (Class 1)
- Gases (Class 2)
- Flammable and combustible liquids (Class 3)
- Flammable solids, spontaneously combustible, and dangerous when wet (Class 4)
- Oxidizing substances and organic peroxides (Class 5)
- Toxic/poisonous substances and poison inhalation (Class 6)
- Radioactive materials (Class 7)
- Corrosive substances (Class 8)
- Miscellaneous hazardous materials/products, substances, or organisms (Class 9)
Hazardous material incidents are categorized as uncontrolled releases occurring during transportation (truck, rail or pipeline) or at a fixed source, such as a manufacturing or storage facility. Accidental releases may be due to equipment failure, human error or a natural or human-caused hazard event. NDDES maintains records of previous hazardous material release incidents. The statewide total for spills in 2020 was 896, and there have been more than 500 incidents this year.
HAZMAT releases are not only dangerous to humans, but can be extremely hazardous to the environment and animal life as well. They can get into the ground water and destroy ecosystems for miles around the area where the material was spilled. Most of the spills that happen are generally very small and do not cause a lot of damage. There’ve only been a select few cases in which spills have been harmful or big enough to cause any sort of real damage to the environment or people. Thankfully, a new spill reporting system was implemented in 2021 to better track these spills and the time it takes to clean them up is reduced.
The reporting system can be accessed at spill.nd.gov or by calling 1-833-99SPILL (1-833-997-7455), and is a one-stop shop for energy industry producers, transporters and developers, as well as the public, to report hazardous material spills and releases. Through the reporting system, state agencies can capture and archive information that can be used to better protect North Dakotans. Learn more at spill.nd.gov.