At first glance, the wildfires burning in forests and vineyards in California would seem to have nothing to do with us in eastern South Dakota.
We don't have forests or vineyards, and we don't have the topography that causes extra high winds to tunnel down valleys to fuel the flames.
But we do have wildfires, wind, occasional droughts and uninhabited places where a fire might get started and unattended for awhile as it grows. So we're looking to the experience in California to see if there are any lessons for us on the plains.
We see the critical issues as prevention and detection.
There are stories that one of the fires in California was caused by fireworks at an expecting couple's party. Other reports indicate campfires or other human-set fires were either left unattended or got out of control before help arrived.
In eastern South Dakota, we've seen grass fires caused by intentional burnings that got out of control, which seem completely preventable. It certainly makes sense to burn only on windless days, but the best measure is to call the fire department in advance. Someone there can help establish the best procedure, and in some cases, supervise the burn.
Early detection can keep a small fire from growing large. For those of us who drive through in rural areas and see a fire, it makes sense to get closer to see if it's supervised. If it isn't, a quick phone call could cause someone to check it out further. It's better to call in a false alarm than to let a real fire get out of control.
We empathize with Californians who have lost so much, and hope we can prevent even small disasters from occurring here.
-- Jon M. Hunter