Wildland fire task force to bolster firefighting resources established

Devils Lake Daily Journal

BISMARCK, N.D. – As hot weather and dry conditions have provided ample fuels for an active wildfire season, the North Dakota Forest Service and North Dakota Department of Emergency Services recently initiated a program to augment the state’s firefighting capabilities and resources.

Over the past week, personnel and equipment from the Williston and Kindred fire departments and Dickinson Rural Fire Department were on standby to provide state support for wildfire response alongside the Forest Service as part of a wildland fire task force.

The task force concept was adopted to allow local fire departments the ability to respond outside their jurisdictions, if needed. Departments that volunteer will coordinate directly with the Forest Service to preposition personnel and equipment for any potential state wildfire suppression missions.

“The rapid development of the North Dakota wildland fire task force once again highlights our state’s creativity and willingness to help one another in a time of need,” said State Forester Tom Claeys. “We greatly appreciate fire departments working together to enhance firefighter and public safety.”

Fire departments generally can volunteer to be assigned to the wildland fire task force for weeklong increments consisting of 12-hour shifts. The length of those assignments can be extended up to 21 days, however. The Williston and Kindred fire departments and Dickinson Rural Fire Department will demobilize today after 11 days on standby.

Under the wildland fire task force, the Williston Fire Department had the chance to respond to a fire July 26 in an area east of Williston. The fire, estimated to be about 50 to 100 acres, was rekindled from a fire earlier in the day within the Williston Rural Fire Department’s district. Both Williston Rural and the Williston Fire Department were able to work with one another to suppress the fire.

“It’s been a great opportunity; I just think it’s a great thing for our state,” said Clint Bates, captain with the Williston Fire Department. “I’m originally from the West Coast, and then I was in Montana before I came up here, and the departments I’ve worked for in the past have had a strong relationship with their states. I think it’s really important for our state to grow this program so that we have these resources to do this.”

Bates was part of a North Dakota task force that supported the wildfire response in western Oregon in September 2020. The group included 17 firefighters from the Minot, Williston, Grand Forks and Fargo fire departments and was assembled after sourcing and coordination through Emergency Services and the Forest Service. North Dakota has a long history of providing EMAC (emergency management assistance compact) support to other states. This summer, however, drought conditions have required more robust support to manage wildfire activity in North Dakota.

“Wildfire resources nationwide have been severely stretched during a very active fire season, particularly in the western portion of the U.S.,” said Amy Anton, Emergency Services Response Section chief. “But anytime North Dakotans work together to solve problems and face challenges — including when facing a drought coupled with a prolonged wildfire season — our emergency management partners are able to use out-of-the-box thinking to come up with innovative strategies to protect our communities.”

In 2021, North Dakota has recorded more than 1,700 fires which have scorched more than 112,000 acres.

To learn more about fire safety and to access burn ban and fire danger maps for local counties, visit the NDResponse website. Communities also can consult with their local fire department or emergency management office for the most current information regarding restrictions in their area.