Burgum declares statewide fire emergency; National Guard helicopters deployed to help fight Billings County blaze
BISMARCK, ND (STL.News) Gov. Doug Burgum declared a statewide wildfire emergency, enabling the North Dakota National Guard to deploy two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to help fight a Billings County wildfire that has prompted the evacuation of the city of Medora.
The U.S. Forest Service, in cooperation with the North Dakota Forest Service, requested the National Guard helicopters with water buckets to help fight the fire southwest of Medora. Local, state and federal agencies are responding, including the North Dakota Highway Patrol, North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, and a National Guard ground support crew.
The public is asked to stay away from the area and use caution if passing through due to smoke reducing visibility on roadways, including Interstate 94, which was temporarily closed by the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
The governor’s emergency declaration can be viewed here.
Earlier Thursday, Burgum had placed the Guard on standby to provide help if additional resources were needed to respond to a growing number of wildfires in North Dakota as extreme drought conditions continue to spread across the state.
“North Dakota must be prepared to respond to wildland fires during periods of ongoing dry conditions and drought patterns. At this time, North Dakota has an elevated spring and summer fire potential; a significant number of fires have occurred to date,” Burgum stated in a notice to Maj. Gen. Al Dohrmann, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard. “To prepare to support local and tribal firefighting efforts, assist federal fire partners, and respond to fire emergencies across the State, we must have firefighting resources available on short notice. The North Dakota National Guard has the resources we may need to support those firefighting efforts.”
Today’s National Drought Mitigation Center report shows 47% of North Dakota in extreme drought – up from 27% last week – with 38% in severe drought and 15% in moderate drought.
So far this year, the North Dakota Forest Service has received reports of more than 140 wildfires that have burned over 30,000 acres in total. By comparison, 9,205 acres were burned in 518 wildfires reported to the Forest Service during all of 2020.
With the emergency declaration, National Guard members are now able to support local, tribal, federal and state efforts in fire emergencies.
Not all wildfires are reported to the state. Local fire departments are asked to report wildfires through the Forest Service’s Emergency Reporting System. This information is essential to assist with decision-making for prepositioning resources and to increase federal grant support to the state through formula funding. Fire departments also should work with their county emergency managers to report wildfires to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services’ WebEOC incident management tool.
“The North Dakota Forest Service will continue to provide resources to assist volunteer fire departments and tribes, which includes prepositioning wildland fire engines in areas of concern and providing fire suppression when fires exceed mutual aid capacity,” State Forester Tom Claeys said. “In addition, through a state-to-state Wildland Fire Compact Request, Colorado is currently providing two wildland fire engines to add much-needed capacity. A Fire Prevention Team also has been ordered to help enhance prevention messaging across the entire state.”