North Dakota Firefighters Battle Wildfire

AMIDON, N.D. (AP) -- A wild fire in southwestern North Dakota burned between 5,000 and 6,000 acres Wednesday and was ``moving strong,'' fueled by hot, dry weather and strong winds, officials said.

``The temperature is still near 100 degrees, relative humidities are less than 20 percent, and there's wind gusts up to 30 mph,'' Ron Jablonski, Medora District ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said Wednesday night. ``Not prime weather for fighting a fire.''

The blaze began around 12:30 p.m., about 10 miles west of Amidon in Slope County, and was burning to the north. Jablonski said it was human caused, but the exact cause was still being investigated.

No injuries were reported. Jablonski said firefighters were doing protection work around some farmsteads, but he was not aware of any ranches that were immediately threatened. Firefighters were focusing on ranches on the southeastern fringe of the fire late Wednesday.

``We're looking for a wind shift tomorrow, from the northwest,'' Jablonski said.

Thursday's forecast called for a 50 percent chance of nighttime thunderstorms, but high temperatures in the 80s and winds up to 25 mph during the day.

``We're looking at lousy firefighting weather again tomorrow,'' Jablonski said.

The fire, which was on federal, state and private land, was being battled mainly on the ground, though some aircraft from Montana were used.

Bowman County Emergency Manager Dean Pearson said smoke could be seen 50 miles away.

``The smoke has been so thick that even some of the fire departments that are responding have a hard time seeing where they are and where they're going,'' he said.

``It's an extremely serious situation,'' Pearson said.

The region has been plagued by drought. Three fires in the badlands earlier this summer burned about 3,500 acres. Authorities believe one was caused by lightning, one by a camp fire and one by an oil well pad. There were no injuries, and no structures were harmed.

Meanwhile, officials continue to monitor a wild fire along the Missouri River south of Bismarck that was contained last week.

``It's going to smolder for weeks,'' said Bismarck Rural Fire spokesman Reed Overson. ``There's so much dead timber down there, it's unbelievable.''

The blaze, believed to have been caused by lightning, burned about 350 acres but did not damage buildings. Strong wind blew smoke into a housing development Wednesday afternoon, alarming homeowners who called 911.

Overson urged families spending the upcoming Labor Day weekend outdoors to keep a close eye on their fires and make sure they are extinguished before leaving a campground.