July 11, 2017


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

To all of those people who over the 4th of July holiday seemed to be of the opinion that just because the grass appeared to be green that it wouldn’t burn. Let’s make it perfectly clear, green grass and green trees do indeed burn. That’s why fireworks were banned. And why all of McKenzie County and much of the state is under a fire ban.
The fire ban was put into effect to prevent fires and to protect property and lives.
And this weekend, we saw just how dangerous fires can be in western North Dakota as volunteer fire departments from McKenzie, Billings and Dunn counties, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the North Dakota Forest Service have been battling a fire that has already consumed 5,100 acres of Badlands south of Grassy Butte. And that fire is far from being contained.
What caused the fire has not been determined. At this time, the cause of the fire is not important. What is known is that the fire started at approximately 4:30 p.m. (CST) on Saturday, July 8 in the Magpie Campground, which is located 55 miles north of Medora on U.S. Forest Service land. Fanned by winds, the fired quickly spread into McKenzie County south of Grassy Butte.
And that is where the fire was met by some of the finest volunteers that a person could ever want to meet. They are the type of volunteers, both men and women, who are willing to drop whatever they are doing at the time and respond to the call to help. Maybe they were just getting home from the McKenzie County Fair or they were out in the field cutting this year’s sparse hay crop due to drought conditions. Or maybe they were in bed.
But each and every one of them dropped what they were doing when the fire call came in that the Badlands were in flames. They rushed to their respective fire department garages, got into their fire gear, jumped onto their rigs and prepared to spend whatever time it takes to put out the fire.
Little did they probably realize the scope of the fire nor the difficulty that they would have fighting a fire that was virtually inaccessible except by foot. After all, this fire was 90 percent within a U.S. Forest Service Inventoried Roadless Area. And yet that didn’t deter the hard work of these volunteer firefighters. They found a way to do their job and contain the fire where it was possible to do so.
Fortunately, because of the remoteness of the Badlands which was consumed by this fire, there was little or no chance of buildings or homes being destroyed. All that was destroyed was hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful cedar-filled canyons, acres of native prairie grasses and shrubs, and wildlife habitat. And that is bad enough as the scars of this fire will remain for hundreds of years as vegetation doesn’t grow all that fast in the Badlands.
But if the winds had been stronger or from a different direction, that may not have been the case. If the fire had broken out of the Badlands, farm homes, ranches, crops and livestock could have been in peril.
Was the Magpie Fire caused by man? Considering it started near a campground, the answer is probably “Yes.” It may have been started by a campfire that wasn’t put out correctly. It may have been started by a tossed cigarette butt. But then it may have been a lightning strike or from some other source.
We can do nothing to prevent fires starting from lightning or other natural occurrences. But we all have the ability to prevent man-caused fires.
So please understand, the fire danger is very real in McKenzie County. Because of the continued drought conditions, the county’s fire ban is going to remain in place.
So do yourself, and all of our volunteer firefighters, a favor. Don’t be the cause of a fire!