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Associated Press, Published April 05 2013

Dakotas grassland fire about 75 percent contained

LEMMON, S.D. — A fire that scorched nearly 22 square miles on the Grand River National Grasslands in the Dakotas is about 75 percent contained, officials said Friday.

The fire spread Wednesday after a prescribed burn by the U.S. Forest Service southeast of Hettinger, N.D., escaped containment lines and moved into South Dakota's Perkins County. Eighteen fire engines and two water tenders were working Friday on strengthening the perimeter and providing structure protection.

Full containment was expected by Friday evening.

Babete Anderson, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman, said Friday that the agency will be conducting an assessment to determine property damage and is developing a plan to pay for damage caused by the fire.

No burnt buildings or injuries have been reported, but the Forest Service intends to compensate landowners for damage to fences, hay bales and anything else that has been affected, Anderson said.

The fire spans about 14,000 acres in a rural area between the towns of Hettinger in North Dakota and Buffalo and Lemmon in South Dakota.

Some residents said the Forest Service hadn't listened to warnings about conducting the prescribed burn.

Susan Gunn and husband believe they lost nearly 40 percent of their 1,800 acres of farmland. She said high were winds forecast and moisture in the area has been a tenth of its usual level since September.

"But they went and burned," Gunn told the Rapid City Journal. "So their controlled burn, which was supposed to be 135 acres, ended up being 14,000 acres of uncontrollable burning. We lost our hay land. We lost our pasture land. Some of our neighbors lost their hay stacks. It's devastation."

Laurie Casper, 36, said the fire destroyed 95 percent of her family's 1,000 acres of farmland.

She told the Journal that the family lost all of its calving pasture and its alfalfa, which is cut for hay bales to feed the cattle during winter. She said there are also "miles and miles of fences that are completely gone."

Anderson said she was working on scheduling a Saturday afternoon meeting so the Forest Service could field questions from ranchers and property owners.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.