Preparing For A Dry Year
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
It’s only April and it’s already looking like it will be a dry year. Right now, 99 percent of the state’s ground is abnormally dry. About 13 percent is experiencing moderate drought. The drought area includes northeastern South Dakota and another portion in Meade and Pennington counties, leaving 132,149 South Dakotans who live in an area affected by drought.
Because it’s so dry, we’re at an elevated risk for fires. The fire danger is currently “very high” for the Black Hills and “extreme” in counties surrounding the Black Hills. Grassland areas throughout the state are under a “red flag warning” from the National Weather Service.
The South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Wildland Fire Division helps with response to wildfires on forested, state and private lands. Just in the last few days, the Division has reported fires near Fort Pierre, at Custer State Park, in the Palmer Gulch area and in Harding County.
The Sheep Draw Fire in Harding County is the worst we’ve experienced so far this year. With wind gusts up to 70 mph, the fire grew to 6,430 acres in one day. In response, I ordered two National Guard helicopters to assist those on the ground in putting out the fire. As I write this, the size of the Sheep Draw Fire is now estimated at almost 14,000 acres, but thanks to local firefighters, the state Division of Wildland Fire and others who are helping, the fire is 85 percent contained.
This could be just the beginning of a difficult fire season. I know some fires are inevitable – we can’t prevent lightning strikes or control how much moisture we receive – but there are still ways we can prevent fires.
We need to respect county burn bans when they’re in place. Where fires are permitted, never leave a fire unattended, completely extinguish fires before leaving the area and remind others to be cautious. Also, be mindful when operating equipment in dry areas.
Since I’ve been in office we’ve experienced floods, droughts, fires, blizzards and tornadoes. South Dakota weather is anything but predictable, but I know from experience that the perseverance and benevolence of South Dakotans are things upon which we can always depend. That being said, we need to do all we can to prevent fires, especially this year.