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Grass fire sweeps through 19 farms, ranches with high winds
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Grass fire sweeps through 19 farms, ranches with high winds

Grass fire

The flames and smoke were 20-30 feet high in the air during the grass fire between Hettinger, N.D., and Lemmon, S.D.

LEMMON, S.D. – An estimated 20,000-acre grass fire that swept through some 19 farms and ranches on the southwestern North Dakota/northwestern South Dakota border was about 85 percent contained as of late afternoon on Friday, Jan. 15.

“Fire crews are mopping up within the fire perimeter. There are some smoldering shelterbelts, but there is no further spread at this point,” said Shane Penfield, public information officer with the Lemmon Fire Department, who is a rancher in the area. His ranch was two miles to the east of the fire.

Two rural firefighters were injured while fighting the fire. Both were treated and released from West River Regional Medical Center in Hettinger, N.D.

No one else was injured, but hay bales, hay fields, shelterbelts, field residue, crops still in the fields, pasture and grassland, and one or two small ranch outbuildings were destroyed and/or damaged in the grass fire that started between Hettinger and Lemmon, S.D., in Adams County (ND) on the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 14, according to Penfield.

Some livestock may have been lost, he said.

The fire moved quickly over the grassland with fire jumping from acre to acre due to high winds from Jan. 14-15.

“We don’t know how it started but it was fueled from sustained winds, 30-40 miles per hour, with gusts up to 56 miles per hour. The winds were so fierce that there is actually a lot of bare soil here because the wind was scouring the carbon that is normally left behind in a prairie fire,” he said. “It has also been very dry here. We haven’t had any snow since last October except for some flurries the last couple of days. We need moisture. A foot of snow would be okay right now.”

The Lemmon Fire Department was the first on the scene in Adams County on Jan. 14 at about 4:30 p.m. Firefighters immediately called for help from the Hettinger Fire Department.

Some 22 rural fire departments from North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as one on the Montana border, responded to the fire.

“Farmers and ranchers helped us – they were hooked up to implements. They brought their sprayers, water tanks, whatever they had and helped us. We could not have controlled the fire without their help,” he said. “The elevator in Lemmon provided water and the Ready Mix in Lemmon shuttled water. It was an all-hands-on-deck affair.”

Penfield said at times the fire rose to some 20-30 feet high in the air and contained “extreme heated gas and smoke,” and was moving to the southeast. He estimated that at some points the fire was more than 4 miles wide.

An orange glow in the west was seen from Lemmon during the early hours of the fire, according to the fire department report.

Around 11 p.m., on Jan. 14, the fire was under control, but at 1:38 a.m., on Jan. 15, Penfield said the west flank of the fire reignited.

Fire crews worked all day Jan. 15, battling the blaze. Many other agencies, including sheriff’s offices and ambulance services were on the scene, as well.

“The winds have finally died down now,” Penfield said at 5 p.m. on Jan. 15.

The West River Veterinary Clinic began taking offers from ranchers that could donate hay, fencing, labor or other ranch supplies.

For those who want to donate, call 701-567-4333, and the clinic will call back.

“One semi-load of hay is coming up from Isabel, S.D., and another one from somewhere in North Dakota already came today,” Penfield said.

The last large fire in the region occurred in 2013 when some 13,000 acres of grassland was burnt.

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