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Wildfire in Medora nearly contained; fatigued crews enter day 4

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    MEDORA, North Dakota (WDAY) — Firefighters are reporting 85% containment on a wildfire that began on Thursday, April 1, and destroyed 2,276 acres surrounding Medora.

Easter Sunday saw firefighters making progress on fire containment despite the difficult terrain and sustained red flag conditions, through four days of intense fighting by local, state and federal fire services.

Another fire was reported on USDA Forest Service national grasslands on Saturday that has now started burning into the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This fire is currently estimated at 30% contained burning roughly 1,000 acres.

The Bravo unit and two air tankers were called in for assistance from South Dakota on Saturday; the tankers delivered one drop each.

“This fire is in very rough, inaccessible terrain, and extreme drought conditions make fire suppression difficult, but responders are working diligently to contain the blaze,” a statement from the North Dakota Forest Service said. “At this time, the North Unit visitor center and housing values are at risk. The North Unit of the park is closed at this time, as well as the CCC Campground across the Little Missouri River to the south of the park.”

The USDA Forest Service issued a closure for the area affected by the wildfire, including Buffalo Gap Trail from I-94 southeast to its intersection with the Maah Daah Hey Trail, and the Maah Daah Hey Trail from the National Park Boundary south to Sully Creek State Park. This order is to protect public health and safety and is in effect until further notice.

While there were no injuries or structural damage to the town, many braced for the worst as flames drew increasingly closer to the heart of Medora. The Burning Hills Amphitheatre, home to the Medora Musical, and the Chateau de Mores were both spared by timely arrival of fire service personnel.

On Friday Burgum visited with first responders in Billings County as he and his staff surveyed the damage. While in Medora, Burgum met with and thanked emergency services personnel representing more than 20 agencies who remain in an active battle with the wildfire.

“We are deeply grateful to the Billings County and Medora fire departments, the North Dakota National Guard, the U.S. Forest Service, North Dakota Forest Service, North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, National Park Service and all the other local, state and federal team members and volunteers who collaborated to keep the wildfire contained and residents safe,” Burgum said. “Because of their quick action, teamwork and communication, the wildfires were contained, saving lives and property, including historic Medora. As drought conditions persist, we will continue to keep resources at the ready and encourage North Dakotans to observe burn bans and follow safety protocols to prevent wildfires.”

During a press conference held Friday in Medora against the backdrop of scorched hills and the Hollywood-esque sign reading “Medora” at the Burning Hills Amphitheatre, Burgum noted that the area burned by wildfires so far this year in North Dakota had surpassed 30,000 acres – more than triple the entirety of 2020.

Eight counties in the state experienced wildfires on Thursday, and the city of Dickinson experienced two significant drought related fires on Friday and Saturday.

A Federal Aviation Administration flight restriction remains in effect following a request by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services as local, state and federal agencies worked to contain the wildfire.

Pilots of manned and unmanned aircraft were asked not to fly within a radius of 10 nautical miles of the epicenter of the fire in Medora, as aircraft from the North Dakota Civil Air Patrol, North Dakota National Guard and U.S. Forest Service conduct wildfire response operations in the area.

This includes flying at altitudes from the surface to 5,000 feet above sea level.

The ongoing Medora wildfire is one of multiple wildfires affecting North Dakota and South Dakota as nearly half of each state faces extreme drought conditions — a condition exasperated by unusually low snow fall during the winter months.

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