Return Of The Prairie Wildfire

Inside Dakota Ag

The rise of no-till, CRP and corn turn the Dakotas into a tinder box in a dry fall.

Published on: November 20, 2011

I lit a brush pile on our farmstead on fire the other day and spent a tense half hour beating down the flames that flickered through the dry grass surrounding the pile. Luckily, my son and I were able put contain the fire before it reached the shelterbelt and really took off.

Fortunately, I had waited to start the fire until the soybean field around our farmstead had been harvested and the ground had been worked. If the fire had gotten away from us, at least it wouldn’t have spread beyond our farmstead.

That wasn’t the case across the Dakotas in October. I talked to one farmer who lost 40% of one unharvested field to a fire that had started in his neighbor’s combine. The wind drove the fire more than 15 miles before it was stopped. One family in its path reportedly lost 80% of their total grain production for the year.

Prairie fires might become more common and more dangerous in the Dakotas in the future. With no-till, the Conservation Reserve Program and more corn being planted, there’s a lot of residue on the land in the fall. When it’s dry, the whole country is a tinder box.

Prairie fires were a constant threat for Dakota pioneers. I'm not looking forward to their return.