North Dakota/South Dakota line: Unseasonably Warm, Dry Conditions Create Inferno
Wild winds on Jan. 14, 2021, fueled a grass fire that burned a twenty mile stretch in Adams County, North Dakota, and Perkins County, South Dakota. Thirty to forty mile per hour winds drove the blaze on a crazy path past the town of Lemmon, South Dakota to nearby Shadehill, where it was finally contained along the Grand River east of Shadehill. Gusts up to fifty-six miles per hour were recorded at the Lemmon Municipal Airport on Thursday. Typically in January such winds would cause blizzard conditions and come with snow; this winter, however, has been unseasonably warm and the area currently has no snow cover at all, so the fire made fast work of dry fuels left from last summer.
The fire started approximately four miles north of White Butte, South Dakota. The Adams County, North Dakota sheriff’s office said that the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The huge fire with flames shooting twenty to thirty feet in the air was met by an overwhelming response from volunteer fire departments and emergency personnel from nearby communities and farther afield, including some from 100 plus miles away. The Lemmon fire department was alerted to the fire just after four thirty pm. They immediately requested help from the Hettinger, North Dakota fire department. Other area fire departments who arrived to assist included Bison, McIntosh, Grand River, Morristown, Lodgepole, Meadow, McLaughlin, Isabel, Mobridge, Faith, Prairie City, Buffalo, Camp Crook and Ludlow, South Dakota, and Bowman, Flasher, Carson, Elgin, New Leipzig, Mott, Reeder and Regent North Dakota. Lemmon Fire Marshall Shane Penfield reported that many individuals also lent assistance hauling water and plowing fire breaks with tractors and disks. Hoff’s Ready Mix trucks hauled water to supply the fire crews, and multiple volunteers provided food and water. Other agencies assisting included the Perkins County Sheriff’s Office, Lemmon Ambulance, Ziebach County Sheriff’s Office, BIA Fire, Perkins County Highway Department, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, Adams County Sheriff’s office and North Dakota Forestry. The Perkins County Sherriff’s department closed U.S Highway 12 between Lemmon and White Butte and South Dakota Highway 73 between during the incident.
Thankfully, no primary homes were lost to the blaze, but several ranches suffered extensive damage to other structures, shelterbelts and infrastructure. The fire covered a path over twenty miles long and up to four miles wide. The precise acreage burned is not yet confirmed and exact damages to property have not yet been fully assessed.
The fire was finally halted near the Grand River around eleven pm Thursday night. Due to the winds, a spot on the west side of the fire reignited around 1:30 am Friday.
Fire Marshall Penfield said that approximately nineteen occupied farms and ranches were affected. Two firefighters were injured and received medical care at West River Regional Health Center in Hettinger. One of the injuries was significant, but both have since been discharged. Crews continue to work in windy conditions on Friday to monitor the fire area and completely extinguish the remaining hot spots. As of 11:51 am Jan. 15,, the fire was approximately 80 percent contained with no active spread.
West River Vet Clinic in Hettinger, North Dakota, is organizing donations of feed for livestock producers who lost hay to the fire. Anyone wishing to donate hay or hauling can contact them at 701-567-4333. Producers in need can reach out to them as well. South Dakota Stockgrowers is also organizing hay donations. They can be reached at 605-342-0429.
The Lemmon Chamber office is organizing a list of needs and donated resources for those affected by the fire. Current possible needs include: help with fencing that was burned down, replacing hay that was burned, hauling hay, food and beverages for workers/fire crews/emergency crews, emotional support, able bodies to move things, fuel, help finding larger resources for longer term issues, help getting kids to daycare or school through the following weeks, etc. Anyone wishing to help should call the Chamber office at: 605-374-5716/701-928-0367 or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations of smaller items can be dropped off at the Chamber office in Lemmon.
Donations to the area fire departments would also be appreciated. Contact the Lemmon Fire Department at 605-374-5796 or the Hettinger Fire District at 701-567-4313.
Adams and Perkins County residents are extremely grateful for the massive response to this fire, and extend their thanks to all of the firefighters, first responders, emergency personnel, friends, neighbors and volunteers who put their lives on the line to battle the flames and reached out to help in any way possible, and they are thankful to God for answering many prayers for His protection and aid in getting the fire under control.
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Jill Rigler is not your average 17 year old.