Eye on KELOLAND: What to expect for fire season 2021


RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been a busy past few weeks for firefighters in KELOLAND as they tackle numerous wildland fires across the state.  And we’re not even to the busiest time of year for fires.

At the end of March, the Black Hills saw multiple fires flare up. Although it’s unsure how they started, weather conditions were just right to spread the flames quickly. Like the Shroeder Fire.

Right now is what’s called shoulder season. Which means it is not peak fire season. However, it’s quickly approaching.

“That Monday we had a cold front push in through with the strong winds both before and after that cold front and that was definitely the trigger. If we had an ignition, we knew that fire was going to run across the landscape,” Darren Clabo said.

Daren Clabo is the state fire meteorologist who helps determine fire danger levels. He says these next few months will really determine what kind of summer we can expect.

“If we go through the spring carrying drought we are in a tough situation in the summer months. For example: April, May, and June in Rapid City, we get about 47-percent of our annual precipitation in those three months. So if we go through those three months without banking moisture, we end up getting into the summer months with an exceptionally dry situation,” Clabo said.

Clabo says either way people need to be taking precautions. And be aware that the smallest flame could start a wildfire.

“There’s all sorts of different ways that we as humans cause wildfires on the landscape and if we can take that component out of it and just let lightning do what lightning does, and let’s not be part of that problem,” Clabo said.

“We need everybody’s help and the more a person can prep their home for any fire season whether it’s an extreme season, high season, or a low season, if you live in the wildland urban interface, being proactive is only going to help yourself and it’s going to help the folks that come in to do their best to be able to protect your property,” Chris Stover said.

Chris Stover is the Forest Fuels Specialist for the National Forest Service. He says this shoulder season is a good example of what we can expect if we aren’t careful.

“It is certainly a precursor for what this summer’s fire behavior could potentially look like,” Stover said.

Stover says the fuels that catch fire in the South Dakota landscape are currently very dry.

“This place wants to burn, it’s within its DNA so if you can realize that and be proactive, you’re going to do an awful lot better when that event occurs. It isn’t if an event is going to occur, it’s when an event will occur,” Stover said.

New Underwood Fire Department chief, Caleb Dustman says his crew has been busy.

“We’ve seen an early start to what you would consider your typical fire season. We didn’t quite get out of the fire season but definitely coming in early with the lack of moisture over the winter and lack of that early spring moisture,” Dustman said.

Dustman is also a rancher.

“You don’t burn that trash, you don’t burn those slash piles, you just have to wait and we can’t take any unnecessary risks this time of year. It’s cliche but preventing wildfires starts with you as an individual,” Dustman said.

With the possibility of this summer experiencing dangerous fire levels, he asks the public to be cautious.. for the safety of themselves and the first-responders.

To stay updated on the changing fire danger levels click here.

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