Drought Conditions Throughout South Dakota Prompt Burn Bans

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Drought conditions throughout South Dakota have forced several counties to take action and institute a burn ban.

But even counties that have not issued burn bans are being cautious.

Each month, fire chiefs in Minnehaha County meet and review the calls they’ve received regarding grass fires. They say the data over the last two weeks didn’t justify the need for a burn ban at this time.

But Sioux Falls firefighters say that doesn’t mean residents shouldn’t exercise extreme caution when lighting fires in the area.

South Dakota is full of natural, grassy areas. But those areas can pose some serious risks in certain conditions.

“As we expand our population and we get out in more urban areas, we have more potential for grass fires and the houses up against those natural areas,” said Capt. Terry Nelsen.

Sioux Falls Fire Rescue Captain Terry nelson says it’s the areas where the grass isn’t controlled as much that pose the greatest risk.

“With the current conditions, they can grow very rapidly,” said Capt. Nelsen.

A wild grass fire can happen in just mere seconds.

And Sioux Falls Firefighters say even something as small as a cigarette butt can lead to extensive damage of land and property.

“If we’re not on top of them right away, they can be quite the big fire,” said Capt. Nelsen.

Battalion Chief Steve Brunette says depending on the wind and materials burning, the grass itself doesn’t need to be that dry.

“It could be fairly humid, have a good moisture content and still burn readily,” said Battalion Chief Steve Brunette.

He says a lot of grass fires are preventable and is urging South Dakotans to practice extreme caution.

“Keep your fires in a recognized burn pit and have a water source available to put the fire out,” said Battalion Chief Brunette. “Do not have that fire closer than 20 feet to any structure.”

Captain Nelsen says this year, the Sioux Falls Fire Rescue has seen more grass fires than last year. And he says that number will continue to increase with the dry weather, low humidity and lack of rain.

Battalion Chief Brunette says the last time Minnehaha County issued a burn ban was in 2012.

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