Western SD Sees Increased Risk of Wildfires in Early July

Jun 29, 2020

The Fort Meade prescribed burn from April 27, 2018.
Credit Credit Josh Hoffman / Black Hills National Forest

Forecasts show an increased risk of wildfires in western South Dakota in the next few weeks after two of the wettest years in state history.

Darren Clabo is the state’s Fire Meteorologist. He says the past two seasons were very wet with minimal fires.  

“What that did allow is--it allowed for a lot of grass growth. That grass growth is now kinda this dead grass layer, thatch, that’s down near the soil surface below the green grass we have growing in this year," Clabo explains. "So we’re setting the stage for fire season because we have the additional fuel that’s down below.”

Clabo says western South Dakota is now dryer than usual and expected to see above average temperatures in the near future.

“So that just kinda continues to load the gun, if you will, in terms of our wildfire potential into July," says Clabo.

While areas in the Black Hills have seen some super-cell thunderstorms recently, Clabo says that’s not enough to prevent wildfires.

“If we could get one inch of rain spread over a week, it allows the fuels to absorb a lot more of that moisture and then they’re not receptive to carrying fire. If we get one inch one rain in one hour most of that precipitation runs off and it’s not able to get within the fuel matrix to do any good from a wildfire perspective.”

Clabo says residents should mitigate fire risks on their own property by moving wood piles away from their house. Other common measures—like campire safety and careful disposal of cigarette butts—are also important.

“In June, July, August and September in the Black Hills, over 50% of our fires are actually started by lightning," he says. "But that means that in those months in the Black Hills that 40-50% of those fires are started by humans. So let’s take the initiative to lower those numbers way down.”

On average, Clabo says 40,000 to 60,000 acres of land burn in wildfires statewide.