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Fire Danger In Minnehaha County

December 28, 2011, 9:58 PM by Kelly Bartnick

Fire Danger In Minnehaha County
RENNER, SD - It's not severe snow, but drought blowing into parts of South Dakota, and fire danger grows by the day.  If crews are called to your house in Minnehaha County, you could end up footing the bill. 

The county put out a warning Wednesday ahead of a New Year's weekend where, for the first time since 1999, residents can purchase and shoot fireworks to celebrate. Minnehaha County says if a volunteer fire department is called out, the cost to put that fire out could be put on you. 

"It's not something that occurs this time of year, so people don't think it's a big deal," Minnehaha County Emergency Manager Lynn DeYoung said. "But it is really dry out there and has the ability to get out of control quickly."

DeYoung said the county is running more than seven inches below normal moisture levels this year. So at a time when snow should suppress any chance of a flare up, the county says please don't light up.

"There's a lot of people out there that use it for management techniques on their farm or even to clear out shelter belts. And right now, it's not real safe to do that. And probably not the best time of the year," DeYoung said.

"We've been fortunate. We've had only a couple grass fires compared to a list of other fire departments that have been busy," Renner Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Schmitz said.

Schmitz normally spends his time responding to accident calls because of slippery roads during December, but this year, the department's grass fire truck is the one mobilized. Just last week, authorities in Lincoln and Turner Counties responded to several grass fires. 

With a new state law allowing fireworks, officials worry residents will be tempted to ring in the New Year with a bright show while not paying attention to where the sparks fly.

"Now the grass is not green like it might be then. It's brown, the ground is hard, so if you get wind at all with a fire, it's going to blow right across the top of the ground on the dry grass and it's just going to race," Schmitz said.

According to the county, fireworks calls can leave the homeowners to pay the local fire department's dispatch costs. It can be anywhere from a small fee to hundreds of dollars or more.

"If they shoot one, use extreme caution, and if they do happen to get a fire going, have somebody call 911 right away. Do not try and put it out. Get us coming," Schmitz said. 

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