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Drought contributes to increase in North Dakota wildfires

June 16, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The number of wildfires this year in North Dakota has increased significantly, according to state officials, who cite extremely dry conditions.

Data collected by the North Dakota Forest Service and the state Department of Emergency Services shows nearly 1,400 fires have consumed about 156 square miles since the beginning of the year. Last year, about 921 fires burned approximately 18 square miles.

North Dakota has experienced some of the driest winter and spring months this year. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows more than two-thirds of the state is in extreme and exceptional drought.

State Forester Tom Claeys says limited moisture along with warm temperatures have increased the intensity and size of wildfires this year.

“This year, it’s imperative that we all know how to mitigate against wildfires, especially as we make plans to enjoy the summer months by recreating outside with friends and family,” Claeys said. “With Independence Day right around the corner, we need to raise awareness now to reduce wildfire risk. We all can do our part to practice fire safety and protect property and lives.”

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Tribal, state and federal agencies responded to two large wildfires April 30 through May 2. The Roosevelt Creek Fire in the Little Missouri National Grassland, north of Medora, burned more than 15 square miles, about the same amount of land consumed by the fire on the Fort Berthold Reservation, about 6 miles south of Mandaree.

Gov. Doug Burgum and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring planned to hold town hall meetings Wednesday and Thursday with farmers, ranchers and other residents in the Washburn, Rugby and Medora areas to discuss the extreme drought conditions.