South Dakota has seen two large wildfires this year and the traditional fire season hasn’t even started. But the state fire meteorologist says the intensity of the coming fire season depends on the amount of spring and summer rain.
Darren Clabo is the state fire meteorologist. He says warm and dry conditions this winter and early spring are related to the two large wildfires in the Black Hills. The good news, Clabo says, is that wetter weather is ahead.
“One of the biggest things we need to have for large fires in the summer months is we need to have drought, and with the expected precipitation over the next few weeks, I don’t think we’re going to see drought building into the region, so that leads me to believe that our fire season should be somewhat tame," says Clabo.
Clabo expects to see more off-season wildfires due to warmer temperatures earlier in the year. He cites climate change as a major player in this trend.
“On average, we’re three degrees warmer now than we were a hundred years ago. If that trend continues, we typically have enhanced fire seasons when the temperature is higher, and so the trends are there for those warmer years, and we are gearing up or almost expecting for it," says Clabo.
At least one of this year’s large wildfires was human caused. May is Wildfire Awareness Month and Officials stress using common sense when outdoors, including extinguishing all campfires completely. For those who live in fire-prone areas, officials suggest creating a 30 foot fire-resistant space around the home. This, they say, can help keep structures from burning when a wildfire approaches.