National Weather Service predicts early, long fire season

The prediction from the National Weather Service as part of its drought briefing on March 8, 2021, includes early fire dangers.

rural grass fire
The Jamestown Rural Fire Department respond March 14, 2016, to a grass fire west of town near I-94 Exit 245. John M. Steiner / The Sun

The National Weather Service is warning of an early and long grass fire season in North Dakota in a weather briefing issued March 8.

"An early and active spring fire season is expected until spring green-up occurs," said the National Weather Service in a report issued March 8. "If drought conditions persist into summer, new season grasses may cure early leading to an earlier than average summer/fall fire season."

For county emergency managers in the James River Basin, that means dealing with early grass fire dangers this spring rather than spring floods and inundated roads.

"I guess we're an equal opportunity county," said Charlie Russell, emergency manager for Dickey County. "We've got no snow, maybe a quarter of an inch of precipitation all winter."

Russell said fire departments from Fullerton and Oakes battled a grass fire near Fullerton recently. That fire has been one of several reported over the region.


For Stutsman County, the dry conditions prompted Jerry Bergquist, emergency manager and 911 coordinator, to remind the public of the county's burn ordinance that has been in place since 2017. The ordinance makes it a Class B misdemeanor to light a fire when the fire danger index is very high or extreme or the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning.

A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine or both.

The ordinance covers all of Stutsman County with the exception of Jamestown which has its own fire ordinance.

Bergquist said fire danger is normal every spring from the time the snow melts until the soil warms enough for the grass to start growing and become green. This year, the snowmelt is early and there is little moisture to get the grass growing.

"Just my observations," he said. "But I'm not sure we'll see a green-up this year. The moisture keeps evaporating."

Bergquist said in a press release the continued dry conditions may push the fire danger index into the very high or extreme category in the next few days. As of Monday, March 8, the fire danger index for Stutsman County and much of western North Dakota was classified as high.

Dickey County also has a burn ordinance that went into effect March 2, Russell said. The Dickey County ordinance also bans open fires when the fire index is very high, extreme or a red flag warning has been issued. Violations are also considered a Class B misdemeanor.

Russell said people are still allowed to burn when the fire danger is below the very high level.


"Call the local fire department before you light off," he said. "It beats running a bunch of fire trucks out for a controlled burn."

LaMoure County does not have a burn ordinance at this time, said Kimberly Robbins, emergency manager.

The LaMoure County Commission discussed a burn ordinance at its March 2 meeting but took no action, she said.

"They are waiting for input from the six fire chiefs," she said, referring to the heads of the six volunteer fire departments in the county. "That will be reviewed by the county commission for action on March 16."

Residents are urged to take precautions by removing as much combustible material from around their home, outbuildings and propane tanks as possible, Russell said.

What To Read Next
Get Local