Grand Forks County, along with 35 other counties across the state of North Dakota are in the midst of a "high" fire danger rating, according to the Wildland Fire Assessment System. Another 15 counties, mainly along the western edge of the state have received a "very high" fire danger rating. All North Dakota counties but Divide, which has a rating of "moderate," are at an elevated risk of grass and wildfires.
Dan Riddle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, said such fire hazard ratings are based on criteria including the percentage of green up in the area and humidity values. Although wind is a factor that determines the fire's growth, Riddle said it is not a factor in determining the risk or likelihood of a fire.
This level of fire risk is normal for the time of year and even tame compared to last year, he said.
"Typically this is a time of the year when risk starts increasing because the snow melt is now gone the fields have dried out," he said.
Peak fire hazard weather strikes North Dakota from April to late May and Minnesota's fire season occurs later in the middle of the summer months.
When asked how residents can prevent starting wildfires, Riddle pointed to the fact that few wildfires are started by lightning, an unpreventable force. The majority of wildfires are started by human error, he said. But fortunately, the steps to prevent starting fires are simple. Riddle said the most effective ways are by following any county burn bans, extinguishing fires completely before leaving it unattended and refraining from throwing cigarettes or other lit products on the ground.
Burn ban in effect
Around 2 p.m. Friday, the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Office issued a burn ban, in effect until Tuesday. Sheriff Bob Rost said the ban could be extended beyond Tuesday if the Grand Forks County Commission deems it necessary. He cited especially dry conditions and high winds as the basis for the ban, noting that a couple of fires broke out in Larimore on Thursday, partly due to the wind.
Violating the burn ban is a Class B Misdemeanor and carries a fine of $1,500 in addition to the cost of fire maintenance and suppression.