Bad time to burn piles in Pennington County

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With the warmer temperatures this week, snow pack in the region will continue to erode, exposing dry fuels that are ready to burn. This has led the National Weather Service to begin issuing Grassland Fire Statements earlier than planned.

The Grassland Fire Index is a forecast of the potential for non-agricultural grasslands to carry fire.

Most years, the National Weather Service waits until April 1 to issue the Grassland Fire Index. But this year, with continued drought, warm temperatures and a dry fuel bed, they have decided to launch the index three weeks earlier.

"Southwestern South Dakota doesn't have much snow at all,” said Susan Sanders, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Rapid City. “With warming temperatures, we're concerned about increasing fire danger. So, we want people to know what the fire danger is every day and whether or not it's safe to burn."

In Pennington County, open burning is prohibited when the Grassland Fire Index is "very high" or greater, but that doesn't mean burning is safe at a lesser index.

"With the weather conditions that we're seeing in the next couple weeks here, it definitely is not a good time to be looking at burning any type of a pile, especially as our snow cover erodes away,” said Pennington County Fire Administrator Jerome Harvey. 

With recent wildland fires caused by slash piles, Harvey is asking the public to make sure their piles are cold before leaving them.

"You may think that they're dead out, but you can have embers and heat down deep inside of those piles," Harvey said. "Take the time to rake those piles out and make sure that they're dead out."

With the changing weather conditions federal, state and local agencies could begin to put a pause on burn permits. The best thing to do is check with your local agency.

"Everybody needs to check with their county to see what is done and what level of fire danger that they can burn at and do that safely," said Sanders.

The lack of recent precipitation has led to continued severe drought in western South Dakota. If that continues, it could be a long season for firefighters.

"If we start seeing those springtime precipitation deficits, that is very well correlated to a bad fire season during the summer months," said South Dakota Fire Meteorologist Darren Clabo.

You can find more information on the Grassland Fire Index here. And you can find information of slash pile burn permits here.

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