Williams County declared a fire emergency Thursday in an effort to prevent spring wildfires.
The emergency includes an automatic burn ban, including a ban on the ignition of fireworks, garbage burning, campfires, burning of farm or crop land and unnecessary off-road motorized travel whenever the state’s Fire Danger Index is in the High, Very High or Extreme Status and/or a Red Flag Warning.
The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning that was in effect from 1 to 7 p.m. Thursday. The warning covered Billings, Burke, Divide, Dunn, Golden Valley, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams counties.
The burn ban will be lifted when the state says the fire danger is low or moderate, and local fire chiefs have the ability to approve a waiver of the ban. Violating the burn ban is a class B misdemeanor.
Despite the muddy conditions, the area is still experiencing a drought, which increases the fire danger, according to Mike Smith, emergency management director for Williams County. Dry, dead vegetation, increasing temperatures, low humidity and increasing winds and the fact the snow has nearly all melted off all contribute to the risk.
“It doesn’t take dead vegetation very long to dry out at all,” Smith said.
And because so much of the ground cover is dry, fires can spread rapidly. With the muddy ground, fire trucks can get stuck when trying to fight grass fires.
As of Thursday, 19 counties in North Dakota had a fire danger of very high, including Williams, McKenzie and Divide counties. Statewide, all but five counties had fire danger ratings of high or very high and those five were all rated moderate.
Once things start to grow, the fire risk should decrease.
“We just need some rain and green crops and green grasses,” Smith said.
One of the reason anyone wanting an exemption from the burn ban needs to talk with their local fire chief is preparation.
Smith gave the example of a farmer who wanted to burn off wheat stubble in a field. By getting local fire departments involved, they can be aware of the situation and respond quickly if something goes wrong.
Some fires start accidentally, but the burn ban gives county officials a tool to limit fire danger.
“We want to prevent the (fires) that can be prevented,” Smith said.