Extreme drought conditions in the upper Midwest, combined with strong winds, have created a major fire hazard for North Dakota and South Dakota this week. Several wildfires have been sparked across both states, but perhaps none as threatening as the Schroeder Fire near the city of Rapid City, S.D.
As of this morning, fire crews have contained 47% of the fire, according to the Schroeder Fire 2021 Facebook page.
“The fire continues to burn in steep, rough country inaccessible by roads. Heavy air tankers and helicopters continue to support ground firefighters as they protect homes and work to contain the fire,” read a statement on the page.
As of Wednesday, over 2,100 acres have been burned and a team of 250 have been onsite to help fight the fire. Hundreds have been forced to evacuate their homes.
The threat of two nearby fires near Mount Rushmore National Memorial has forced the closure of the park.
While several smaller fires continue throughout the state, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said in a press conference Tuesday that overall she is happy with the progress that has been made in containing the fires.
“We’ve done a fantastic job limiting the damage. It’s not over yet, but we are in a pretty good spot because of the excellent people and partnerships that we have,” she said.
Noem also issued a state of emergency in South Dakota on Tuesday due to “severe drought and dangerous fire conditions,” said a news release from the governor’s office. “The order will allow the state to provide greater assistance to the response efforts of local and volunteer firefighters.”
The state of emergency will run through June 1.
Several fires have also been ignited in North Dakota as well.
“To me, the drought itself is a much bigger story than the fires,” said NDSU Extension rangeland specialist Kevin Sedivec. “The fires happen because we have these wind events. They are really not a major issue in terms of forage production.”
Sedivec noted that 100% of the state of North Dakota is in a drought; 80% is in a severe drought and almost 30% of the state is in an extreme drought stage, which is a D3 drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s ranking system. A D4 drought is the most extreme ranking. A D3 drought corresponds to an area where major crop and pasture losses are common, fire risk is extreme, and widespread water shortages can be expected requiring restrictions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“We haven’t seen that level of a drought since 2006,” added Sedivec.
The threat of drought and fires continues through the Red River Valley and into western Minnesota. On Monday in Mentor, Minn., about 20 miles east of Crookston, a fire claim about 500 acres of grassland.
Tom Bradford lost around 200 bales of hay and some machinery in the blaze, but his buildings were saved along with his 50 head of cattle.