Burgum surveys wildfire in Billings County, thanks firefighters for keeping residents, Medora safe
Gov. Doug Burgum visited Billings County April 2 to survey areas damaged by a wildfire that broke out Thursday, thanking the firefighters and emergency services personnel from more than 20 agencies who fought the blaze and successfully kept it from reaching the city of Medora, which had been evacuated as a precaution.
“We are deeply grateful to the Billings County and Medora fire departments, the North Dakota National Guard, the U.S. Forest Service, North Dakota Forest Service, North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, National Park Service, and all the other local, state and federal team members and volunteers who collaborated to keep the wildfire contained and residents safe,” Burgum said.
“Because of their quick action, teamwork and communication, the wildfires were contained, saving lives and property, including historic Medora,” the governor added. “As drought conditions persist, we will continue to keep resources at the ready and encourage North Dakotans to observe burn bans and follow safety protocols to prevent wildfires.”
Burgum declared a statewide wildfire emergency on Thursday, enabling the North Dakota National Guard to deploy two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with water buckets to help fight the fire. Earlier Thursday, Burgum had placed the Guard on standby to provide help if additional resources were needed to respond to a growing number of wildfires in North Dakota as extreme drought conditions continue to spread across the state.
During a press conference held April 2 in Medora against the backdrop of scorched hills next to the Burning Hills Amphitheatre, the governor noted that the area burned by wildfires so far this year in North Dakota – over 30,000 acres – is more than triple the 9,200 acres that burned in wildfires during all of 2020. Eight counties saw wildfires on Thursday alone. This week’s National Drought Mitigation Center report shows 47% of North Dakota in extreme drought – up from 27% last week – with 38% in severe drought and 15% in moderate drought.
The Billings County fire was about 50% contained Friday afternoon and had burned more than 3,000 acres but resulted in no injuries, deaths or lost structures, Burgum noted.
“This is a credit to all of the volunteers, all of the firefighters and all of the leadership that went into this,” he said during the press conference.
Department of Health announces COVID-19 vaccine available to the general public
The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) announced during a press conference in March that the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout would reach Phase 2. On March 29, access to the vaccine was opened to all North Dakotans over age 16.
“North Dakota continues to be a national leader in vaccine administration, thanks to the incredible efforts of our health care providers, public health staff, Team ND members and citizens who have received the vaccine,” Governor Doug Burgum said. “Those who haven’t been vaccinated are encouraged to take advantage of this expanded access to protect themselves and those around them, build community immunity, keep our schools and businesses open and help end the pandemic.”
As of Wednesday, March 31, 232,696 (40%) North Dakotans had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 151,362 (26%) being fully vaccinated.
“As the state prepares to make the vaccine available to the general public, it’s important for people included in Phases 1A, 1B or 1C to be vaccinated now, as they are at highest risk for severe COVID-19 or being exposed to COVID-19,” said Molly Howell, NDDoH Immunization Director. “Anyone in Phases 1A or 1B who has not received their vaccine yet is encouraged to call our COVID-19 hotline at 1-866-207-2880 and select option 2 for assistance if they’re having trouble finding vaccine.”
Citizens can determine their vaccine eligibility in their area by checking the NDDoH COVID-19 Vaccine Locator at health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator.
Photo caption: North Dakota Homeland Security Director Cody Schulz receives his first of two doses of COVID-19 vaccine at Fraine Barracks in Bismarck, N.D.
mitigation matters: Wildfire Season is Here – You Can Help Prevent Unwanted Fires
Wildfire season started early in North Dakota this year. Due to dry and warm conditions, burn bans already are in effect in most counties across the state. The North Dakota Forest Service and NDDES is reminding the public about what individuals can do to help prevent wildfires.
Wildland fires need three conditions – heat, fuel, and oxygen – in order to start. Sources of heat can include fires started by people and their equipment, or more rarely, lightning. Fuel is plentiful in North Dakota, as we have an abundance of dry prairie grasses and other vegetation. That is why it is so important that North Dakota residents be careful with fire.
In 2020, 518 wildfires burning a total of 9,205 acres were caused by humans in the state of North Dakota and were preventable. As of April 1, North Dakota already had 139 fires burning nearly 30,000 acres (typically, only 30 percent of fires in the state are reported). The leading causes of preventable wildfires in the state of North Dakota in 2020 were debris burning (294 wildfires started), equipment use (160 wildfires started), and smoking (36 wildfires started).
Debris burning was the largest cause of unwanted, human-caused wildfires in 2020. These wildfires were preventable. If you plan to burn debris, be sure that you are aware of the laws in place by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality regarding open burning.
If you are towing any kind of a trailer, ensure that your chains are not dragging. Dragging chains cause sparks, which can ignite a wildland fire. Also, be careful when driving on dry brush or grass. Hot exhaust pipes can also ignite wildland fires which you may not notice until it’s too late.
Fires should not be started on days with a Red Flag Warning. You can check to see if your county has a Red Flag warning by visiting NOAA’s website at https://www.weather.gov/bis/. To learn more about how you can prevent unwanted, human caused wildfires, visit the Smokey Bear website.
In order to learn more about what each burn ban entails and to check the current status of your county, please visit the NDResponse website.
Editor's Note: This edition of NDDES Insights includes the first of a recurring feature titled "OnPoint." Each month, this space will be used to recognize an NDDES employee, team or emergency management partner who has gone above and beyond in serving the state's citizens and supporting NDDES's vision for a safe, secure and resilient North Dakota.
Onpoint: Haz-chem program recognized for implementing state spill reporting system
Amy Anton, Jeff Thompson, Randy Jacobson and Roxann Hopfauf, who administer NDDES's Hazardous Chemicals Preparedness and Response Program, this month are being recognized for “Excellence in Service” in our OnPoint feature. The team was responsible for planning, developing and implementing a unified, streamlined reporting system for energy industry producers, transporters and developers, as well as the public, to report hazardous material spills and releases.
The project began in 2018 and culminated in January 2020 when Gov. Doug Burgum announced the system’s completion during his annual State of the State address.
“This simplified system gives producers and the public a one-stop option for reporting hazardous material spills instead of having to report spills to multiple state agencies, thereby enhancing the state’s spill response and transparency,” he said at the time. “Through increased collaboration and unified reporting, our state agencies are now better prepared to protect North Dakota’s water, air and soil.”
We want to recognize Amy, Jeff, Randy and Roxann for all the hard work that went into creating this system, which can be accessed at spill.nd.gov or by calling 1-833-99SPILL (1-833-997-7455). Aside from working with HAZCONNECT, the platform developer, to build the system, they spent many hours conducting outreach to industry stakeholders and providing training. The system also was designed to capture Tier II reporting for facilities across North Dakota, including inventories of hazardous and toxic chemicals. Read more about the state’s spill reporting system here.
Thank you, Amy, Jeff, Randy and Roxann for all you do!