Fires still a concern in South Dakota, even with greening grasses

Black Hills see less of a threat than grasslands

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Western South Dakota has greened up in recent weeks thanks to snow melt and above average precipitation but the fire danger is not over.

Transitioning to spring is one of the busiest times of the year for wildfires, alongside the end of fall, because of the available fuels in the hills and grasslands. A surge of growth in previous seasons has led to an abundance of thatch resting over freshly growing grass.

Mowing over the grass allows more green grass to shine, speeding up the growing process. Letting thatch sit on top of the grass, slows it down because the sun isn’t successfully reaching the soil below.

“Until the grass starts having more green than there is brown, then we’re going to have substantial fire danger,” said Chris Stover, assistant fire management officer of fuels at the Mystic Ranger District Office.

The tall trees of the Black Hills are not as in danger of fire as the grassy prairie because of their varying response to the atmosphere around them.

Thicker fuels, or 1000-hour fuels, are more susceptible to long-term climate variations. The long-term snapshot of the Black Hills shows no drought conditions in the area.

Thinner fuels, like grass, are referred to as one-hour fuels. They are more affected by short term, small scale changes.

“Grass is going to change from day to day from hour to hour,” said Stover. “That’s why we call it a one-hour fuel. Very fine fuels can respond to humidity changes, to sun exposure.”

The slightest change in meteorological conditions can drastically change the way a fire behaves.

So why not prevent fires all together?

“It could be a pile someone lit, it could be a car fire, chains on a trailer, ” said Stover. “This time of year can be pretty dry in the grass and these fuels are, we call them light flashy fuels, meaning that they become receptive to fire very quickly just within a couple of hours we can go from like this grass behind me being not receptive to fire to burning readily in a span of just a couple hours.”

“Be cognizant of where you park this time of year,” said Stover. “If you pull off the road and you’ve got a hot exhasut pipe, an ATV, UTV, cars, trucks you park in deep grass, it’d be easy to start a fire quite honestly.”

Dragging chains behind vehicles can also cause a spark. Authorities suggest keeping an eye on kids too, as may fires can start from children experimenting with flames.

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