DICKINSON, N.D. -- Large swaths of southwest North Dakota are facing moderate fire danger, which may signal a returning drought.

Dunn, Billings, Slope, Hettinger and Stark Counties have already been designated as natural disaster counties by the United States Department of Agriculture after meeting requirements under earlier in the year, as each county suffered from drought conditions during the growing season lasting for eight or more consecutive weeks.

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The National Weather Service in Bismarck said fire weather watches and red flag warnings are issued when there is an “enhanced risk” for fires to get out of control -- something that may be a future possibility if the trend continues. Representatives of the weather service said that a watch is typically issued a day or two ahead of time when they believe the conditions might be possible for a fire spreading.

The wildland fire assessment system, in collaboration with the federal land management agencies in North Dakota, identified most of western North Dakota as a moderate fire danger area.

A secretarial disaster designation makes farm operators in primary counties and those counties contiguous to such primary counties eligible to be considered for certain assistance from the Farm Service Agency..