U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) last night introduced a bill that would require collaboration between federal and local officials before initiating a prescribed burn on federal lands when fire danger is high. Thune’s bill follows two prescribed burns in South Dakota in the past two years that have burned out-of-control, one set by the Forest Service (FS) in northwestern South Dakota known as the Pautre Fire and most recently one set by the National Park Service (NPS) on April 13, 2015, known as the Cold Brook Fire at Wind Cave National Park.
“Over the past two years, the federal government has twice exercised a complete disregard for imminent fire danger by starting prescribed burns under unsafe conditions in South Dakota,” said Thune. “The Pautre Fire caused extensive property losses and both fires required multiple firefighting units, equipment, and personnel to fight the out-of-control fires. It is reasonable to require federal agencies to collaborate with state governments and local fire officials before setting prescribed burns under these conditions, and that is exactly what my bill would do.”
Both prescribed burns in South Dakota were started under extremely dry conditions. Thune’s bill looks to address numerous issues that came about as a result of these fires. Under Thune’s bill, the Cold Brook Fire would not have been set due to the restrictions on prescribed burns during dry conditions unless state and local officials had consented. Additionally, if this bill had been enacted at the time of the Pautre Fire, individuals impacted by out-of-control burns would be reimbursed for their damages in a timely manner. Pautre fire victims still have not been reimbursed by the FS, nor has the FS accepted fault.Thune’s bill, the Prescribed Burn Approval Act of 2015, would require the head of a federal agency to first collaborate and obtain approval from state government and local fire officials if the Grassland Fire Danger Index indicates a high, very high, or extreme fire danger or the FS has declared very high or extreme fire danger. Thune’s bill also stipulates that should a federal agency proceed with a prescribed burn that damages private property, it is liable for any damage to private property caused by the burn, with damages to be paid within 120 days of receipt of a substantiated claim.