Fire Still A Danger Even In Cooler Weather

Late fall weather can be notoriously erratic on the Northern Plains. One day it could be in the mid-60s, followed by a dusting of snow, a day that doesn’t climb above freezing, a rainy and cold fall day and round out the week in the mid-60s again with high winds.

Just as quickly as those conditions change, so too can the wildland fire danger, and local officials want the public to keep that in mind as the harvest ends and burning becomes more widespread.

Yankton Deputy Fire Chief Larry Nickles told the Press & Dakotan that milder conditions raise the danger.

“Anytime we get warm weather, a little bit of wind and humidity’s down right now because of the cold temperatures, that’s when we need to be watching and kind of worried,” he said. “Now that we’re getting the hard freezes at night … that’s going to finish drying up and killing off anything that wasn’t.”

This comes on the heels of a year that has been largely dry, with much of the region experiencing drought conditions the whole year.

One example of just how quickly fire conditions can change in fall came earlier this week. On Monday, the fire danger according to the National Weather Service’s Grassland Fire Danger Index was rated as “low” in Yankton County. But on Tuesday, that level had increased to “extreme” with no open burning recommended.

Nickles said that people are asked to continue using proper judgement when it comes to open burning.

“As usual, we want people to use caution when they’re doing their controlled burns,” he said. “Call them in, watch the weather report, check our Facebook page periodically just to see what the weather’s doing.”

He said that while cooler temperatures will help the fire index some, precipitation remains the greatest mitigation tool.

“That’s going to be our next relief — if we do get some moisture,” he said. “I don’t see anything forecast. In the long term, there’s not much for snow predicted. We’re looking at a dry winter.”

In spite of the persisting dry conditions in the county and conditions being more favorable for fire development, Nickles said it hasn’t been much of a problem lately.

“There’s been people out doing controlled burns and they’ve done OK,” he said. “To my knowledge, we’ve only had one harvest fire in Yankton County, and it was in a combine with no damage and they went back to work. We flushed it all out and they went right back to work. The field didn’t burn at all or anything. The farmers have been telling me that the bean plants — even though the pods are shaking off — still have a lot of moisture in them. That caused some problems with the combines if they went too fast.”

He said that it’s still key for anyone looking to burn in the coming weeks to keep an eye on the situation with the weather and on the ground.

“Just check your weather report, make sure you’ve got enough manpower to handle your controlled burn and, as usual, we want you to call in your controlled burns,” he said. “At that point, you’ll be given the weather report whether it’s favorable to burn or not.”

Follow @RobNielsenPandD on Twitter.

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