How North Dakota agencies have handled record number of wildland fires

05 May 2021

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USA – North Dakota is seeing a record number of wildland fires with eight of the driest months on record.

KX learns how agencies across the state have been teaming up to pull out all the stops, as we lead local in tonight’s top story.

Since January local, state, and federal agencies have responded to more than 800 fires in the state.

All together they’ve consumed around 78,000 acres.

“When we look back at the previous five years, yearly totals it’s for the year we burn about 520 fires for a little under 14,000 acres. So when you compare our years to the total of what we’re sitting at today it’s been fairly active,” explained Ryan Melin, a fire manager with the North Dakota Forest Service.

Melin says it’s truly been the partnerships they’ve used that’s led them to achieve success in these unprecedented times.

“Including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, US fish and wildlife service, US Forest Service, the national park service, to come together and really create a large fire department that could respond to these and out resources on them quickly and try to contain them to the best of ability as quickly as we can,” said Melin.

The state has had to use resources like the Civil Air Patrol and black hawk helicopters to put out the flames which have only been used in the floods in recent years.

“Black hawks have brought down large sandbags for us going back to 2011. Civil air patrol has done dike patrol. Getting video imagery for us real-time in the past. But it’s been a long time since we’ve used these resources on fire,” explained Cody Schulz, the Director of Homeland Security for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.

Through nationwide partnerships between states and emergency managers, the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services has requested help from multiple neighbors like South Dakota.

“The request for black hawks it wouldn’t be unusual for that to take multiple days. So incredibly quick response this last weekend. But the need was there, our partners in South Dakota had the resources and they got it to us very quickly,” said Schulz.

As they continue to fight fires, firefighter fatigue is a top concern.

“That’s not considering any of the EMS calls they’re going on. Any of the auto accidents they’re going on. Any of the structure fire stuff they’re going on. So any time you tax a department or state with that many calls in a short amount of time fatigue becomes an issue,” explained Melin.

The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services has since created an internal dashboard allowing agencies across the state to have access to real-time updates.

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