Several days of near-hurricane force winds cutting across parts of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota hammered the region and turned a small fire into a massive wildfire that consumed approximately 20,000 acres near the town of Lemmon in South Dakota.
A weather warning was issued Wednesday (Jan. 13) through Friday (Jan. 15) hitting Bowman County and surrounding area with winds gusting to more than 70 miles an hour.
The wind gusts helped exacerbate the fire, which started Thursday, near the South Dakota border community of Lemmon and would force several nearby communities and farms to evacuate.
According to the local fire marshal, the “Windy Fire” near Lemmon would burn farmland for about 20 miles, cutting a line about four miles wide.
By Sunday afternoon, more than 20 fire departments from as far away as 100 miles had responded and contained the blaze.
According to Bowman Fire Department Chief Chad Welch, his department sent eight firefighters and three trucks to South Dakota.
In addition to support from the Bowman and Scranton fire departments, the fire also drew assistance from fire departments in Hettinger, Flasher, Carson, Elgin, New Leopold, Mott, Regent and Reeder.
South Dakota communities Bison, McIntosh, Grand River, Morristown, McLaughlin, Isabel, Mobridge, Faith, Prairie City and Ludlow also sent firefighters from their departments.
According to a Lemmon Fire Department spokesman, the fire was reported Thursday (Jan. 14) at 4:33 p.m. in the afternoon.
“At the time of the call, winds at the Lemmon Municipal Airport were in excess of 30 to 40 miles per hour sustained winds, with high gusts of 56 miles per hour recorded Thursday,” said Shane Penfield, the fire marshal and public information officer for the Lemmon Fire Department.
“The fire was moving to the southeast. An ominous orange glow was seen from the city of Lemmon during the early hours of the fire,” he added.
By Saturday afternoon, the fire was considered to be 95 percent contained, according to Penfield.
Using aircraft to survey the damage, the Lemmon Fire Department estimated the damage covered between 15,000 to 20,000 acres. The fire affected approximately 19 ranches, with one ranch headquarters being heavily damaged. The unoccupied residence was a complete loss.
Although there were two firefighters injured during the fire, there were no fatalities. The firefighters were transported to West River Regional Medical Center for treatment.
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Adams County Sheriff’s Department and the North Dakota fire Marshal’s Office.
“The results of this fire could have been drastically different,” Penfield said in a statement to Facebook Sunday evening. “But due to the training of local fire departments, assistance of other agencies and individuals and the experience of the Incident Commander, the loss of property, while devastating, was contained to a minimum considering the circumstances.
“The amount of support has been simply overwhelming as calls to assist have been received from all over North and South Dakota,” Penfield said in the Sunday press release.