DICKINSON, N.D. — Over 20,000 acres of combined farmland and grasslands in Adams County, N.D., and Perkins County, S.D., lay scorched by a fire that erupted Thursday evening, Jan. 14, destroying more than 19 occupied farms and ranches and sending two firefighters to the hospital.
By Friday afternoon, Jan. 15, the incident commander, Lemmon, S.D., Fire Marshal and Public Information Officer Shane Penfield confirmed that the fire was 90% contained and there were no active spreads at the time. Both of the firefighters were discharged from the hospital — one with significant injuries and the other with unknown injuries, Penfield noted.
The Lemmon Fire Department responded to a report of a major grass fire in Adams County Thursday afternoon. At the time of the call, winds at the Lemmon Municipal Airport were in excess of 30 to 40 mph, with a record high gust of 56 mph Thursday. The Lemmon Fire Department immediately requested mutual aid from Hettinger County and an initial attack was made on the fire. As crews battled the blaze, the Perkins County Sheriff’s Office closed both U.S. Highway 12 west of Lemmon and Highway 73 South.
At the time of the fire, Adams County had been experiencing intense dry conditions with no snow and a high wind warning was issued from the National Weather Service in Rapid City, S.D.
The fire traveled over 20 miles and at some points and stretched to 4 miles wide. No occupied residential structures were lost in the blaze, however, a ranch headquarters experienced extensive damage, according to the Lemmon Fire Department.
Over 21 departments responded to the scene, Penfield noted.
Upon arrival, a very pronounced smoke column was witnessed by fire personnel. The head of the fire had lengths upward of 20 to 30 feet, containing extreme heated gas and smoke. The fire continued to move southeast at a rapid rate. Several farms and ranches were evacuated and responding fire departments initiated structure protection.
“The (Lemmon Fire) Department thanks everybody that rolled up their sleeves and took on this incredible challenge yesterday. That’s all of the government agencies involved, it’s private individuals, it’s just the works, support and encouragement throughout the states of North and South Dakota,” Penfield said.
Penfield said that these types of fires do not occur all that often.
“This is definitely a big one. The last major event was actually south of Hettinger in South Dakota, and that was some 13,000 acres. So it’s definitely out of the ordinary. Although if you go back 15 years, there are similar events. In this area, it just really comes down to what weather conditions are like,” he said.
The Lemmon Fire Department is still investigating the cause of the large grassland fire, Penfield added.