Antelope season opens today in northwestern South Dakota, which is raising concerns about increased chances of fires.

Associated Press

BELLE FOURCHE | The opening of antelope season today is again raising fire concerns in northwest South Dakota.

Bill Eastman, state game warden based in Belle Fourche, notified Butte County officials Thursday about the state's plans to quickly respond to any reported fires in what has been one of the driest years in decades in the area.

South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, S.D. Wildland Fire, the Bureau of Land Management and contracted Sorum-Reva volunteer fire units will patrol the northwest corner of the state.

Butte and Lawrence counties can expect to have 450 hunters in the fields this antelope season, Eastman said.

"This number is down significantly from just four years ago with the reduction in antelope numbers," he said.

The state response came after Harding and Butte County commissioners wrote about their hunting-season fire concerns to Game, Fish & Parks Secretary Jeffrey Vonk. They expressed concerns about hunters and increased traffic on tinder-dry prairie.

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Vonk said a single-engine air tanker is now stationed in Lemmon. The Buffalo airport is available as a reloading station in case the aircraft is dispatched to a fire.

GF&P also will help fund two fire patrol units from the Sorum-Reva Volunteer Fire Departments during the hunting season.

S.D. Wildland Fire will have two units from the Lead and Hot Springs areas running afternoon patrols in Butte and Fall River counties, Vonk said.

Eastman is urging hunters to equip themselves to fight small fires and to report any fires immediately. He also said law enforcement officers will be on regular fire patrols throughout northwestern South Dakota.

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