• Chad M. Olson

Wildfires threaten major sections of North Dakota

Fires have been wreaking havoc throughout much of the state of North Dakota due to severe drought and high winds.

On Friday, April 9, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum declared a statewide drought disaster, as dry conditions continue to spread and now include three-fourths of the state. Burgum said in his statement that this is the worst drought in 21 years, according to AP News.

The largest fire has been in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Little Missouri National Grassland in Western North Dakota, covering a span of 5,000 acres. As of April 13, the fire was 95% contained thanks to recent rain and snow.

On April 1, a fire near the South Unit of the Badlands in Medora claimed 3,000 acres and forced the entire town to evacuate. The flames spared the popular Burning Hills Amphitheater, which hosts the beloved summer Medora Musical. The fire is now 100% contained according to AP news.

According to KFYR News, Williston was also battling two large blazes west of town near Highway 2 on April 8. Investigations regarding the cause of the blaze are ongoing, but the North Unit fire appears to be human caused and the park continues to be closed due to the fires.

Fires are also affecting portions of the Maah Daah Hey Trail, which covers both the North and South Units of the Badlands and is a popular attraction for hikers and mountain bikers.

“When the Horse Pasture Fire started, I was out on an 11-mile trail run. I was just over halfway through when I saw the smoke rising, and it looked like the smoke was coming from the campground trailhead I had parked at,” said Nick Ybarra, who runs the nonprofit Save The Maah Daah Hey Trail.

All counties within the state, except Griggs County in Eastern North Dakota, have enacted burn bans to prevent any more fires from starting. In response to the dry conditions, various red flag warnings have been issued throughout the state, including Eastern and Western North Dakota, which means that conditions are ideal for fires to start and spread rapidly. As long as a burn ban remains in effect, campfires and the burning of garbage, farm, or crop land is prohibited.

According to Ward County Commission Chairman John Fjeldahl, the announcement does not restrict the use of grills or commercially sold enclosed fire pits, but it is suggested that the grills or enclosed fire devices be placed on an inorganic surface and be a minimum of 15 feet away from any vegetation.

The penalty for violation of this ban will result in a Class B Misdemeanor, which can include a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.

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