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Betsy Simon, Forum News Service, Published April 06 2013

Forest Service takes responsibility for out-of-control grassland fire

HETTINGER, N.D. – In a meeting with nearly 100 farmers and ranchers from here to Lemmon, S.D., the U.S. Forest Service on Saturday claimed responsibility for the Pautre Fire that scorched thousands of acres of grassland between Wednesday and Friday.

“The Forest Service is extremely regretful that the fire escaped the containment lines,” Grand River District Ranger Paul Hancock said during the public meeting at the North Dakota State University Research Center in Hettinger.

Hancock said he gave the go-ahead for the burn.

The apology didn’t sit well with Linda Evridge, whose family ranch near Lemmon was destroyed. “My land and everybody’s land in here was beautiful,” she told Hancock. “The people in this room know this land better than you do. Do you think you should have called and talked to the people in this room before you burned anything?”

The Forest Service said it was intending to burn 130 acres of dead crested wheatgrass when the fire broke containment areas and spread throughout federal and private grasslands due to dry and windy conditions.

In a news release sent late Friday evening, the Forest Service said the Pautre Fire, located on the Grand River Ranger District of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, was about 90 percent contained.

There were still 16 fire engines and two water tenders assigned to the fire, which has destroyed about 10,800 acres of grasslands in northwest South Dakota, but no injuries had been reported.

One outbuilding had been confirmed lost in the fire.

The fire was no longer spreading Friday evening, according to the news release, but crews from Lemmon, Hettinger and throughout northwestern South Dakota, southwestern North Dakota and eastern Montana continued to work on a few interior hot spots, including a dumpsite close to the edge of the fire perimeter. As for compensation, Hancock said the claims process still has to be worked out, but it is estimated that the cost of recovery could approach $1 million.

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