Dry, windy conditions put North Dakota firefighters in a precarious position Saturday

Extreme fire behavior near Williston, results in a destroyed fire engine

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wildfire Williston, ND April 3, 2021
Firefighters retreat from flareup at wildfire near Williston, ND April 3, 2021. Screenshot from the Angela Black video below.

When I first saw the video below shot April 3 north of Williston, North Dakota, I thought there may have been a small explosion such as from a propane tank or a gasoline container. But apparently the fire just hit some ladder fuels and closely-spaced trees, which in the dry, windy conditions resulted in multiple-tree torching.

The video is very brief and shaky, and it does not provide context for much of the fire behavior that existed before the flareup, but the increase in fire intensity appeared to be sudden and unexpected. Judging by the speed with which the firefighters retreated, it was definitely a surprise.

At the very end, note how several small spot fires appear on the passenger side of the fire engine.

A pickup truck that at first could not be seen behind the fire engine, backed away very quickly, and the three dismounted firefighters expeditiously utilized their escape routes.

A representative of the Williston Rural Fire Protection District told Wildfire Today that the fire was within their district, and the truck that was abandoned and destroyed was from the City of Williston Fire Department.

“Everyone was OK besides a few minor burns,” the representative told us. “Gusty winds led to the rapid growth into the pine trees which became fully engulfed very quickly as you can see. No structure or vehicle caused the explosion. Western North Dakota is in an extreme drought and the fires are showing extreme behavior. We are witnessing fire behavior that we haven’t seen in our area for decades, only speaking for NW North Dakota. That fire consumed 2,000-2,500 acres which is the largest in our District in recent history (3-4 decades).”

The video was shot by Angela Black.

Drought Monitor, created March 31, 2021
Drought Monitor, created March 31, 2021. NOAA.

Areas in south-central North Dakota and Western South Dakota are under Red Flag Warnings on Monday, along with areas in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Red Flag Warnings, April 5, 2021
Red Flag Warnings, April 5, 2021

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Scott.

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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.