- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Daily News, Wahpeton, May 4, 2015

Multiple grass fires caused by dry, windy conditions

The dry and windy conditions of this spring have combined for a dangerous situation in the Red River Valley. Almost anything can be the catalyst for a huge grass fire that rages out of control.

The state’s climate is characterized by huge temperature variations. Last week was cooler, while this week’s temperatures have been summer-like. The one problem the Red River Valley is experiencing this year is a lack of precipitation.

John Enz, North Dakota State Climate Office, said the average annual precipitation ranges from between 14-22 inches from northwestern to southeastern North Dakota. This year’s mild winter has put much of the state into a drought. Although forecasters are predicting some measured rain next week, the days in between will continue to prove dangerous for any type of burning.

Although Richland County is no longer under a burn ban, except on days the governor turns it into a statewide ban during high risk days, Richland County Emergency Manager Brett Lambrecht is warning people to be careful and diligent when they light a fire. If people want to burn they need to call the County Dispatch Center first and notify officials where they are burning, Lambrecht said.

“We also advise people not to burn at all on windy days,” he said.

Thursday was a day that turned into a nightmare for area fire departments. The windy weather and dry conditions proved perfect fodder for two large grass fires that forced rural departments to ask for mutual aid to stop the fire’s spread. The Mantador Fire Department called for help to stop a fire from destroying a rural farmstead and Fairmount spent hours combatting a fast-moving grass fire. The Wahpeton Fire Department has had close calls recently, too, with multiple hot spots from sparks flying out of the engine of a passing train and a grass fire that threatened the south side of the city a few weeks ago.

Each area fire chief will probably give people the same answer as Lambrecht, until a decent amount of rain falls in the Red River Valley, do not burn anything. Barbecuing is fine, but watch your grill while using it. For those who burn garbage, stand by until the work is done with a hose on hand to stop the fire from encroaching upon dryer tinder.

The threat for fire right now is very real, so people need to take the proper precautions. Until some measured rain falls the fire threat will continue.

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The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, May 6, 2015

Communities continue to expand in and around the oil patch

Despite soft oil prices and the active drilling rig count in North Dakota’s oil patch dropping by more than half compared to a year ago, residential and commercial construction activity remains strong in the western half of the state.

Concerns over the impact depressed oil prices might have on local economies and business activity don’t appear to be coming to fruition at this point. Bismarck-Mandan contractors as well as the Williston Basin are again busy this spring.

In Bismarck, 56 single-family home permits have been issued so far this year through April compared to 58 last year. Industrial building activity is up since last year, with 33 permits issued compared to 15 in 2014. For commercial, it’s 17 compared to 20.

Doug Lalim, a building official in Mandan, said the city has permit requests for quite a few single-family projects and it has some interest in multi-family. “Residential is going pretty strong right now,” he said. “The indication is they (contractors) will be just as busy.”

In Watford City, the oil-driven construction boom is again going strong this spring. Steven Williams, the city’s building inspector indicated, “People are throwing up buildings as fast as they can and plan to pay it off in two years. That’s the nature of the boom,” he said.

Cities like Watford City situated squarely in the Williston Basin, are beginning to transition from RV campers and apartments, to homes. In 2010, census figures indicated Watford City had 1,700 people. Today, studies show it could grow to 20,000. Without question, more permanent housing options will be needed going forward.

Overall, construction activity will likely remain brisk in western North Dakota. While there’s certainly more to the state’s economy than just oil, the Bakken continues to significantly influence economic activity not only in the northwest part of the state, but in communities like Bismarck-Mandan.

North Dakota’s oil industry, despite depressed prices currently, is a long-term proposition. The lifespan of the Bakken shouldn’t be measured in months based on the price of oil today, but rather years based on long-term trends.

Estimates from the Department of Mineral Resources indicate the potential for 55,000 to 60,000 wells to be drilled in the Williston Basin within the next 20 years. That means more people living in western North Dakota than ever before.

More people and subsequently more single-family housing, commercial and industrial structures put in place over the course of time, will create the type of permanence oil-impacted communities need. Building hometowns in and around the oil-patch, continues to be a work in progress.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, May 5, 2015

Welcome new peace officers

A new batch of law enforcement officers are ready to join police and sheriff’s departments and some, thankfully, have already agreed to “serve and protect” in our region.

Last week, 19 members of the Lake Region State College’s Peace Officer Training Class No. 75 graduated in Minot, the fourth class to do so at Minot State University.

Chief Jason Olson of the Minot Police Department told the graduates that the job they have chosen is as much a calling as it is a profession. That is true.

Law enforcement is one of those fields in which workers can hardly be paid enough considering all they are responsible for.

They are called to serve the public. While the job can be rewarding, it can also be challenging, Olson advised, and work might cut into their time and affect their relationships with friends and family.

Students in the 14-week program receive training in academics and in situations they are likely to encounter in the field and upon graduation are qualified to be licensed as peace officers in the state.

Thirteen of the 19 students already have jobs lined up, working in Minot, Belcourt, Ward County, Renville County and Williams County.

Congratulations on your accomplishments, and thanks for choosing us. We trust you with our lives.

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