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Critical Conditions Spark Fires & Burning Could Spark Penalties - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Critical Conditions Spark Fires & Burning Could Spark Penalties

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The quick actions of firefighters Monday morning prevented a grass fire south of Moorhead on Highway 75 from getting out of control.

Critical fire conditions have lead to at least three grass fires in the last two days.

Because of the heat and wind a red flag warning has been issued for all of North Dakota and much of South Dakota.

State emergency services officials continue to warn about a high fire danger for all of western and portions of central North Dakota.

A fire weather watch is in effect for Monday, which means conditions could lead to rapid fire growth and uncontrolled fires.

Highs are forecast in the mid-80s to lower 90s on Monday with northwest winds expected in the 25 mph range afternoon relative humidity near 20 percent.

The watch affects Divide, Burke, Renville, Williams, Mountrail, Ward, McKenzie, Dunn, Mercer, Oliver, McLean, Golden Valley, Billings, Stark, Morton, Burleigh, Slope, Hettinger, Grant, Adams, Sioux and Emmons counties.

North Dakota's Stutsman County could soon be joining more than a dozen other counties that have issued burn bans after fighting 13 grass fires in the first 10 days of May.

The largest Stutsman fire blackened about 60 acres. The Jamestown Sun reports that no injuries have been reported so far in any of the blazes. A grass fire that burned 10 acres on May 9 caused damage to a barn.

Stutsman County Emergency Manager Jerry Bergquist says the area needs rain. If moisture doesn't come before the county commission meeting on May 21, he expects the county's fire officials will request a burn ban.

As of May 10, 16 counties in North Dakota had issued burn bans, including LaMoure, Dickey, Logan and McIntosh.

In Minnesota, several burn bans are in effect including one for Clay County where Monday morning's fire was.

When Sabin-Elmwood fire crews arrived, the grass fire south of Moorhead was burning in a small area.

It was a single ember from Sunday night's pile of burnt garbage that lit the long grass.

"It just takes one little ember right now with the dry vegetation we do have. It will rapidly spread," says Sabin-Elmwood Fire Chief Randy Schmidt. He adds "You get this breeze come up and it'll pick it up and it'll spread rather rapidly."

Even though there may be spots of green in this grass, Schmidt says it is deceiving. He says given the combination of this dryness and the wind, had there not been a driveway separating a house near the fire from the grass, the fire would have spread to the house in just minutes.

When conditions are ripe for grass fires, frustration tends to mount for Chief Schmidt and Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist when people still choose to burn.

"Barnesville had their call there yesterday with that fire there and that started out as a small controlled burn," says Schmidt.

Sheriff Bergquist says, "We've had times where things have gotten away and buildings that burnt down."

Because of this, not heeding the burn bans could cost you.

You could be given a citation for burning without a permit. That gets you a court appearance where a judge decides the penalty. But it could be worse.

"It's the civil part here if you are burning something, and it gets away and burns down your neighbor's building or something like that, civilly you can be responsible for that damage," explains Bergquist.

The fire department could also hand you a bill for their costs.

With that in mind, Schmidt has some advice. "Give us another week or two, you know, to burn up some of your stuff, then let us get some green growth again," he says.

Even though it was the department's first grass fire of the year, Schmidt hopes it is the last.

As for the penalties for Monday's fire, a Clay County Deputy says he does not think the homeowner will be fined, but he may receive the fire department's bill.

In Clay County, you are required to have a permit to burn. You have call dispatch to tell them when and where you are burning for it to be recognized. Permits are void during burn bans.

In Cass County, violating a burn ban the first time will cost you $50. A second time, you will be paying $250 dollars and the third time in a year is a $500 fine.

But, again, civil penalties may be added.

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