Fuels and firefighting discussion for the northern plains

During fire season the Fire Meteorologist for the state of South Dakota, Darren Clabo, distributes on a regular basis a paper describing the predicted weather and the current condition of the fuels. In the edition published on Tuesday a section about fuels written by Jim Strain, the Chief of Operations for the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division, caught my eye. He references the 28-mile-long Wellnitz fire that burned 77,159 acres in Nebraska and South Dakota.

…Do not underestimate the spread potentials of Fuel Model 1 and Fuel Model 2 fuels during the evening and night hours. When wind, slope and fuels are in alignment, with no natural barriers, these fires will burn just like in the middle of the day. The Rosebud complex in eastern MT last month went from 7000 acres to 100,000 acres in one night! When the Wellnitz fire crossed the state line on late Friday afternoon, the forward progress of the fire was finally stopped in the south portion of the road ditch on US Highway 18, at 2230 hours that evening.

The head of the Wellnitz fire spread quickly through green crop fields such as standing sunflowers. The head of the Wellnitz fire was finally corralled by tactic used by Pine Ridge BIA. Pine Ridge BIA units scraped a line with a grader on the south side of the Hwy 18 Right of way, and as the fire moved through the shorter grass (FM1) to the scraped line, it meet a pretty significant barrier of 10 feet of bare mineral soil, and 33 feet of pavement. This allowed fire units to patrol larger sections of line and hold the fire. Pine Ridge BIA and the Tribe did an outstanding job of pulling the trigger real fast for evacuation once the fire crossed the state line, and good thing they did. Fire was up to many housing units just as fire trucks arrived that evening.

So for any fire in our zone, if you think evacuation needs to take place, just do it, because it probably needs to happen!

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.