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Pair of fires take out grazing lands in southwestern ND
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Pair of fires take out grazing lands in southwestern ND

Medora area fire

Fire scorched lands on the U.S. Forest Service land next to Medora, ND. Photo by ND Gov. Doug Burgum's office.

A wildland fire on April 1 that bumped up against the city of Medora was fully contained six days later, according to Kyle Shockley, Billings County Rural Fire District Chief.

The fire burned about 2,300 acres of mostly grazing lands on U.S. Forest Service land west of Medora, Shockley said.

The wind blew the flames toward the community, and all 100 Medora residents, who were not assisting with fire efforts, were evacuated for a day.

Prior to the fire, Billings County had been in severe drought, and had issued a burn ban, which was still in effect as of April 14.

“The wildfire was started by some sagging power lines that were nearly downed, close to the Bar X Ranch at about 1:30 p.m. They touched some brush and trees and the fire took off from there,” Shockley explained.

The Billings County Rural Fire District responded first to the fire. Shockley said the department is composed of an all-volunteer force, many of who are farmers and ranchers in the county.

Shockley said regional rural fire departments in Belfield, South Heart, Golva, Beach and Wibaux, Mont., responded soon after to assist.

The fire, as it tore through the land, was spurred by dry grass and brush. The area had not received precipitation in March, and was dry.

“It burned some of the landscape and retaining walls at the Medora Musical’s Burning Hills Amphitheatre, but no structures,” he said.

After being called, the U.S. Forest Service took over directing the firefighting effort. State and federal fire departments were called in to assist local efforts.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum declared a statewide fire emergency on April 1 because of drought conditions, especially in the western side of the state. Burgum said there were six fires burning in the state at the time and that the North Dakota National Guard would deploy two Black Hawk helicopters to assist in battling the Medora blaze.

“The National Guard came from Bismarck to assist. They were able to dump 5,000 pounds of water and drop it on a dime,” Burgum said.

Shockley said he was pleased to see the response.

“We were pleased to see all the local, state, and federal fire agencies respond so quickly,” he said.

Local, state, and federal agencies stayed in the area and helped with the mop-up.

“We do the mop-up by hand, walking and extinguishing fires that flare up,” he added.

The Billings County area is reporting to have received about 1.5 inches of snow on April 13.

“The snow was accompanied by a lot of wind,” Shockley said.

On Saturday, April 3, another wildland fire started on the U.S. Forest Service national grasslands at the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

That day, the Forest Service reported, “Very rough, inaccessible terrain and extreme drought conditions make fire suppression difficult, but responders are working diligently to contain the blaze.”

Some 5,000 acres were burnt in the wild fire, called the Horse Pasture Fire. As of April 14, the fire was 95 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Medora Grazing Association reported at least one rancher lost a large part of his grazing land for the summer.

The fire burned lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the State of North Dakota, and some private lands. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The U.S. Forest Service reported that weather conditions on April 13-14, with a snow/rain mix, gave fire crews an advantage.

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