High winds and drought conditions forced most of South Dakota into extreme and very high on the grassland fire danger index Monday, March 29 through Wednesday, March 31. Multiple fires broke out in the Black Hills March 29, prompting the closure of a portion of I-90 and Mount Rushmore.
North Sioux City
In this area, last year, the North Sioux City Fire Department responded to four grass fires – three of them in their district and one mutual aid. North Sioux City Fire Department Assistant Chief Jim Christenson said they were on each call for anywhere from one to two hours.
The number of volunteers it takes depends on how big the fire is as well who is available. Last year, they had as few as eight firefighters respond and up to 12. The one call that lasted two hours had 12 people there, so that would be 24 hours of manpower into putting out the fire.
The department has three brush trucks to help them with grass fires.
North Sioux City has a burn ordinance and a burn permit has to be applied for through the Dakota Valley Fire District in order to burn within city limits. A permit is not required for “in-ground fire pits, fire rings, patio burners, chimney pots or any other type of smaller outdoor fireplaces.”
However, there are certain rules in place when receiving a permit:
• Do not burn if winds are over 10 mph or gusts are over 15 mph.
• Someone must be in attendance until the fire is out.
• Attendant must have fire control equipment and access to 9-1-1.
• Permit holder must follow federal, state and local regulations.
• Permit doesn’t release holder from any liability.
The permits are good for 30 days so that weather conditions can be followed. A permit can be revoked if the holder isn’t following regulations. If a violation occurs, the holder can be subject to a fine by the North Sioux City Police Department.
Elk Point doesn’t have a burn permit process. However, they do have a burn ordinance that prohibits even the burning of leaves within city limits. The only burning that can be done is for religious, cooking or small entertainment purposes (such as fire pits). It can be found in the city’s ordinances under 3.0102 – Acts, Omissions and Conditions Prohibited.
The Elk Point Fire Department responded to 19 separate grass fires last year. They have two grass rigs. Fire Chief Don Klunder said each grass fire is at least a minimum of an hour of their time. Last year, the department responded to a total call volume of 62;30 percent of their calls were grass fires.
The Jefferson Fire Department responded to five grass fires last year – one a field fire caused by a combine. They have one pumper, two tankers and two grass rigs.
Unlike Elk Point and North Sioux City, Jefferson doesn’t have a burn ordinance in place. But caution should still be used when burning yard waste, leaves, etc. such as wind speed and the fire danger index.
Union County residents when there is no burn ban in place, may burn. If someone plans on burning, the Sheriff’s Department requests they contact their office at 605-356-2679 to inform them of a controlled burn. They will ask for your name, address of the burn and a phone number. This way, if travellers on I-29 see smoke and call it in, the dispatchers know of the controlled burn.
If it is learned that the controlled burn turns into a grass fire, dispatchers have your name and contact information along with the location of the fire in order to dispatch the correct fire departments. If a county-wide burn ban is issued due to drought-like conditions, no one can burn, controlled or not.