Monday, July 10, 2017

Prairie Fire

Residents of the prairie have for generations lived in dread of prairie fires, and this is a year when we are all on tenderhooks.  The news that there is a serious fire now in the Bad Lands, although not a surprise, is very disturbing.

Acres impacted by large wildfire

I remember the dry summer and fall of 1976, and a fire near Slope County's Davis Dam.  We kids were on a bus coming home from some sports activity and, when we turned the corner on Highway 85, we could see the smoke, in the west.  Our bus driver, Robert Clendenen was talking on his radio, getting updates.  Everyone on the bus turned silent. We understood that this was grave news. The word came around the neighborhood that a fire camp had been established at the Davis Ranch.  My mother made as much food up as she had available and sent me there with it.  The Quonset was abuzz with the activity of firefighters and all of those supporting the effort.

My husband tells a great story about how he and a buddy were at the time camping on Bullion Butte, and could see the Davis fire.  Governor Link was up for re-election.  Because of the fire danger, he had been forced to close hunting season.  That night, a great rainstorm blew up and put the fire out.  The next day Link opened hunting season and, shortly thereafter, he was re-elected.

Another dry year, about 11 years ago or so, a combine started a fire in Slope County in what became known as the Deep Creek fire, in the ponderosa pine area.  Ken Rogers was working at the Bismarck Tribune and had received notice of the fire.  He called me, knowing that I had intimate knowledge of the geography of that area. I confirmed that from what he was telling me, it must be in the area west of Amidon where Deep Creek flows into the Little Missouri River.  My friend Jan Swenson was in Medora for a meeting and saw the smoke.  She headed for the Logging Camp Ranch, where she assisted the Hansons with their evacuation, loading her van with their treasured possessions, photographs and such.  The fire came very close to their buildings, but did not burn structures.  For many years thereafter, John Hanson and his neighbor logged those burned ponderosa pines and built many a cabin in the area.

Godspeed to those fighting these fires.  It is exhausting work.

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