Views from the Secretary

Views from the Secretary
Wildfire

As I write this, most of the State of South Dakota is in the "very high" or "extreme" category of wildfire danger. There are only a few things we can do about that.

Only 15 percemt of the state's topsoil (the upper six inches) has adequate moisture. We can't make it rain, and there is no major drought relief in sight.�Still, there are things we can do.


Drought is not totally unexpected.�We knew it was just a matter of when it would happen, and we have some measures in place to mitigate the increased fire danger during drought.

Most people don't know it, but the South Dakota Department of Agriculture has a wildland fire suppression fund (provided by your insightful legislators) and a Wildland Fire Coordinator with hundreds of firefighters and several aircraft under contract to fight wildfires.

This structure was created primarily to protect nonfederal forested lands in the Black Hills, but the Wildland Fire Coordinator has authority to suppress wildfires on forested lands throughout the state and on rangelands if the applicable county commission requests it.

It is not likely that a major range fire will wait for a county commission to meet and vote on requesting state assistance.�So years ago we prepared a resolution form which counties can adopt in advance, authorizing a named person to make the request on behalf of the commission.�As of now, 59 counties have done that.

By making this preparation, those counties can now request state assistance on a range fire that may get out of hand and needs special expertise.�Many (if not most) firefighters in the state are trained primarily in protection of your home or business.�We call that "structure protection."�

Fighting a wildland fire is an entirely different thing.�A fire commander who quickly organizes and coordinates the local units can mean the difference between a fire that gets away and does major damage and one that is quickly contained with minimal damage and minimal costs. Large fires easily run into the millions of dollars in suppression costs, so our best plan is to put them out quickly.

Our people are experts at doing exactly that.�They have many hours of both training and experience and are frequently requested by other states to provide that expertise.�When our fire danger is reasonable, we let some of them go, and the requesting state reimburses South Dakota for that expense.

In addition to the expertise, the state (actually it is you, the taxpayers of the state) provides one unit and two personnel to the county at no charge.�Contractors bill at their contract rates when they are called.

I have no idea why seven counties declined this offer of state assistance.�Maybe they don't know the value of the Wildland Fire Coordinator's expertise or felt it would rain enough.

It will rain again. Hopefully, it will do so before we see how deadly wildfire can be.

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