Eye on KELOLAND: Fire departments preparing for wildfire season


Warmer weather is here in KELOLAND, which means there’s also an increased risk for fires. With everyone social distancing in the outdoors, there are a few things we need to be aware of to prevent igniting any kind of spark.

Whether you’re near the city or way out in the Black Hills, we’re surrounded by green grass and trees everywhere. Which makes it very easy to get out and properly social distance but dangerous when it comes to accidentally igniting a fire.

“Folks that have been kind of dealing with cabin fever are ready to go out and enjoy the sunshine. So we will see an increase in forest visitors from trails, to recreating, to bike riding, fishing you name it,” Jason Virtue, Fire Staff Officer of Black Hills National Forest, said.

Virtue says last year, people caused nine out of 10 wildland fires. In some cases, something as simple as parking on dry grass was to blame.

“When things start to dry out, you can see tall grass as it starts to dry out. The exhaust systems can also catch the grass on fire so using caution where people park,” Virtue said.

May is Wildfire Awareness Month. And as we head outdoors we can prevent any spark from igniting. One way to do that is with proper vehicle maintenance. You should also be careful where you smoke, and if you start a fire you need to make sure it is completely out before you walk away.

“But in general, when folks are recreating, we just ask that they use all caution and if they do see smoke or something doesn’t look right that they call it in, whether it’s the local dispatch center or our Great Plains dispatch,” Virtue said.

While local volunteer fire departments are prepared for fire season to start up, they urge people to be very cautious especially this year.

“So COVID-19 poses a little bit of challenge for us when the pager goes off. Ultimately we’re prepared, we will roll regardless of what the situation might be. We are going to try and social distance as best we can, but we also realize that the patient is our number one priority and we need to take care of that patient,” Gail Schmidt, Fire Chief for Rockervile VFD, said.

When a fire department gets called to help put out a wildfire, multiple agencies join in on the effort. This is putting many different first responders in contact with each other and at risk for catching the virus.

“If there’s no fires, that prevents us from having to put multiple people in a truck and having them in a close proximity, less responses for any responders around the area is a good thing at this point because then we are just not exposing each other to anything we don’t need to,” Adam Kuenkel, Ast. Chief Box Elder VFD, said.

Right now, the fire danger level is moderate to low. However, as the summer months continue, that will likely change.

“We are talking about 80 degree temperatures next week already and so these flashy fuels, these grasses, our pine duff layers, those are our flashy fuels, those take an hour to dry up and then we have fire danger again,” Schmidt said.

As we all enjoy the fresh air and nice outdoors, it’s important to remember that even the smallest flame could ignite an enormous wildfire.

Click here to view current fire danger levels.

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