The Yankton area had a substantial snow just over a week ago, so one might assume it should be fine to start burning out in the county again …
Not so fast, says Yankton Deputy Fire Chief Larry Nickles.
While the Yankton area received 8 inches of snow last Tuesday, much of that snow cover is gone and has been replaced with dry conditions, climbing temperatures and windy conditions this week.
Nickles said that the area is right back in the same situation it was before last week’s storm — warmer temperatures, higher winds and exposed dry, organic material.
On Wednesday, the fire danger index was rated as High.
“We don’t expect anything more dangerous that, but it changes every day,” Nickles said.
Nickles said last week’s snowfall was most effective for fire prevention when it was still on the ground.
“The only thing that the snow is helping is at the immediate time. When the snow is present, it cuts back the chances of a fire,” he said.
He added that a layer of snow can even be deceptive under the right conditions.
“We’ve chased fires where the humidity was down so low, the temperature was up, the wind was blowing hard and it took the fire right over the top of the snow,” he said. “It’s kind of rare, but it does happen.”
Nickles said that conditions right now aren’t really affected by short bursts of moisture.
“The damage from the drought was there and we had a hard freeze for a couple of days,” he said. “That kind of finished off anything that was growing. Some of the things that were seasonal — like some trees for example — normally turn slowly this time of year. They went from green to brown. They didn’t get a chance to do their turn, so that drives some of that stuff up. Now that the snow is gone, the potential for grass fires is back.”
He said the threat will largely remain elevated at least until Saturday when moisture is predicted for the region. But the danger will again elevate shortly after until snow cover is established again in the area.
Nickles said that the best way to mitigate the wildfire threat is to keep up with proper burning procedure.
“As long as the fire index isn’t above high on a daily basis, they can burn’ and the way they can find that out is they can go on the Weather Service (website),” he said. “As Yankton County ordinance spells out, they need to call in their controlled burn. At that time, dispatch would be able to tell them, ‘No, you can’t burn today,’ or ‘Yes, you can.’”
He added that it’s recommended those with tree piles wait until snow cover has set in once again.
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