Southwest N.D. town burns to ground in wildfire
BUCYRUS, N.D. -- Looking like something out of an apocalyptic Hollywood film, much of the small town of Bucyrus was burned to the ground after being swept up in a raging wildfire Wednesday.
Aided by winds in excess of 60 mph, a fire estimated by firefighters to be nearly 10 miles long continued to burn into the night in Adams County, swallowing up several homes in its path and causing evacuations and panic.
Homes were seen burning or burned to the ground as of 9 p.m., decimating structures and sending residents scrambling. As of late Wednesday night, there were no reports of injuries.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Scranton Fire Chief Ryan Schumacher. "Everything is burned here. The town is basically gone."
Schumacher said he knew of at least three homes that had been destroyed and added that there were nine fire departments that he knew of assisting. Highway 12 was shut down for several miles in Adams County with nearly every utility pole for at least a three-mile stretch burning or completely gone.
With smoke thick and heavy, red-hot embers blew about rapidly in the continuous strong winds. Surrounded by flames, the railroad that heads through Bucyrus was shut down.
"As far as we can tell, the fire stretches from the Highway 12 intersection east to mile marker 69," said Shawn Peterson of the Adams County Sheriff's Office. "It's a long stretch. There are little fires popping up all around -- it's not a good situation."
Only a handful of homes remained standing into the night as dozens of firefighters worked to contain the blaze. At the 2010 U.S. Census, the population for Bucyrus was listed at 27. The cause of the blaze was unknown, although officials believed it may have started from a previous fire in the area.
"Bucyrus has been pretty much completely lost," Adams County State's Attorney Aaron Roseland said.
The fire started at about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. about a mile west of the 104-year-old town. The city was evacuated at 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. By about 8 p.m., the North Dakota Department of Transportation shut down Highway 12 from its intersection with Highway 22 to Hettinger.
Hettinger was in the clear, Roseland said. But they were watching it through the night for flare-ups as winds continued to blow.
"We're ongoing with efforts to try to make sure that people who need shelter have shelter at our local armory," Roseland said.
Emergency services from Adams County, Bison, S.D., Bowman County, Hettinger, Lemmon, S.D., Lodgepole, S.D., Mott, Reeder, Regent, Reva, S.D. and Scranton were assisting with firefighting, he said. The Red Cross was also in Hettinger.
"We've got some trucks that are over there," Lemmon Fire Chief Harlen Hess said. "We're standing by to do what we can do for them, but I don't think it's a threat to the town of Lemmon."
Almost prophetically, Dunn County Emergency Manager Denise Brew on Wednesday voiced her concerns of a fire in southwest North Dakota, as this portion of the state was under a red flag warning from the National Weather Service.
"We are just crossing our fingers that there are no fires," she said Wednesday afternoon, before knowledge of the Adams County fire. "Because right now, that would be catastrophic. I don't know how any departments would ever stop it. If a fire started right now, it would be a warning to who was in the path of the fire to evacuate and get out of the way. That is my biggest concern."
The strong winds, with gusts up to 65 mph, are expected to last until 6 or so tonight, but the worst of it blew through Wednesday afternoon, said Bismarck-based National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Ayd.
"We've gotten a lot windier than this," he said. "It's not uncommon in the fall and spring to have systems like this to produce strong winds."
Shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday, NWS reported sustained wind speeds of 49 mph with gusts of 63 mph at the Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport.
There was rain Tuesday and into Wednesday, but not much and the wind and sun were expected to dry out any moisture it left, Ayd said.
"We're going to have extreme fire danger across much of western North Dakota," he said. "If a fire were to start, the conditions would be fairly conducive for rapid growth."
Citizens should be extra careful around anything flammable when outdoors, Dickinson Rural Fire Chief Andy Paulson said.
"If something gets going in wind like this it's very, very hard to try to catch it," he said. "Because the fire will take off and it'll travel just how fast the wind is going."