This is Up and Down, where we give a brief thumbs up or thumbs down on the issues from the past week.
Firefighters last week successfully protected Medora’s iconic Burning Hills Amphitheatre and the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site from a wildfire that led to the evacuation of 100 residents. The fire that affected 4 ½ square miles was caused by an electrical line that sagged and arced. Wind gusts of nearly 30 mph blew the flames toward Medora and the site of the Medora Musical. Fire departments from Billings County, Medora, Beach, Golva, Sentinel Butte, South Heart, Belfield, Dickinson and Wibaux, Montana, responded, along with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and the North Dakota National Guard. Thanks to their efforts, no structures were lost in the wildfire and no injuries were reported.
Drought conditions have expanded in North Dakota due to dry weather and strong winds. Almost all of western North Dakota, including the Bismarck-Mandan area, is in extreme drought, and the whole state is in some form of drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Map. The severity led Gov. Doug Burgum last week to put the North Dakota National Guard on standby to help fight wildfires. One fire last week burned 880 acres north of Richardton, injured a firefighter and a rancher’s calves, and damaged electrical infrastructure. The season is likely to be a challenging one for fire crews. The public can do its part to help by heeding all burn bans and local restrictions.
Two companies are testing a method to increase North Dakota oil production without drilling new wells. Minot-based Creedence Energy Services and Ohio company Locus Bio-Energy Solutions are testing a syrupy “biosurfactant” to see if it can extract additional oil from existing wells. If the project is successful, the biosurfactant could potentially be produced in the state with locally sourced products such as canola oil and sugar beets. It’s an innovative idea that warrants additional research.
Active cases of COVID-19 in North Dakota have reached the highest level in two months. Pandemic fatigue and an increase in public gatherings are contributing to the spike, said Kirby Kruger, director of the Health Department's Disease Control Division. The state also is seeing an increase of COVID-19 variants, which are considered up to 50% more infectious. It’s unfortunate that the Health Department has declined to say what North Dakota counties have identified those variants. People in areas with an increase in variants might be more apt to take better safety precautions if they had more information about the risks.