Historic Medora escapes fire, but rangeland burns

Of the approximately 2,270 acres that burned in the April 1, 2021, Medora, North Dakota, fire, rancher Doug Tescher says all but about 100 acres were U.S. Forest Service land that he utilizes for summer grazing.

Tescher, who lives just a mile and a half south of the Medora Ampitheater “as the crow flies” says even though much of his needed summer grass went up in smoke, many of his neighbors are facing a situation similar to his – nothing for their livestock to eat. The lack of moisture fueled the fire and has ranchers all across the region questioning their day to day decisions and livestock numbers, he said.

“I lost about half of my summer grass. I lost three pastures and part of a fourth one,” he said. A significant amount of fence will need to be rebuilt.

“We were already struggling with what to do because of the drought. A lot of ranchers don’t know what they are going to do right now, they are trying to feed hay a little longer and hold on to the cows, and hope for rain.”

Although his area was dry last year too, one of the pastures that burned had good grass cover. “I had hoped to get out there as soon as I could, but there isn’t any grass there anymore,” he said.

The Grazing Association, a group of ranchers who negotiates with the U.S. Forest Service on grazing management details, has determined that ranchers are not to turn out cattle until at least May 15, a good two weeks later than their normal May 1 turnout date. “That date could be backed up even further if we don’t get moisture,” Tescher said.

That will be for ranchers whose pasture did not burn. As for Tescher, he doesn’t know where his cattle will graze, or his bands of mares.

To keep the studs from jumping fence and getting wirecut, he normally keeps them all separated with at least one pasture in between. With much of his pasture burned, this isn’t looking possible.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. You can’t just haul mares, colts or studs to a weekly sale like you can cows,” he said.

Billings County, North Dakota fire chief Kyle Shockley said the fire most likely started from an arcing power line, and was pushed along by increasing wind.

The fire was pronounced 95 percent contained April 7. The U.S. Forest Service continues to monitor hot spots, he said.

Much of the tourist town of Medora was evacuated and historic structures such as the Chateau de Mores and the outdoor amphitheater that plays host to summer musicals were threatened by the fire, but were not destroyed, said Shockley.

The “Chateau” is a historic home built by the Marquis de Mores, a rancher/entrepreneur, in 1883 as a hunting lodge and summer home for his family and guests.

A few minor landscaping timbers may have been destroyed, but no major structural damage was reported, he said. No wildlife or livestock was affected that he is aware of.

Tescher said once the fire moved off the grassland into cedar draws, it became very difficult to fight.

“There are some places you can’t get to even with a four wheeler. You have to walk or go in horseback,” he said.

He and others were fighting with rakes and shovels, and several men tried to carry a four-wheeler with a small water tank over rocks in order to get it in a position to fight the fire, but were unable to move it quickly enough.

Tescher greatly appreciates the volunteer firefighters and all those who helped extinguish the fire.

“It’s unbelievable how many showed up. They stayed all night, and some even longer than that to clean up. It’s amazing the people who showed up to help,” he said.

North Dakota is experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent memory. The entire state is in a drought, according to National Drought Mitigation Center. Governor Doug Burgum announced last week that the state is in a fire emergency.

Fires around the Richardton, Williston and Watford City areas also burned in the same time frame, said Shockley.

Gallery caption: All photos courtesy Doug Tescher

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