North Dakota Grass Fire Nearly Contained

MEDORA, N.D. (AP) -- Helped by cool weather and light wind, firefighters planned Tuesday to check for hot spots and mop up the perimeter of a North Dakota Badlands fire that burned an estimated 2,000 acres.

The Forest Service said crews had most of the fire contained to prevent it from spreading, and hoped to have it out by the weekend.

``Last night, they made progress. They accomplished what they wanted to,'' Forest Service spokeswoman Kathy Bushnell said Tuesday morning.

About 150 people from federal, state and county agencies were on the scene, including 11 smokejumpers from Missoula, Mont., Bushnell said. Some firefighters or equipment could be sent home Tuesday, she said.

The blaze was centered near a primitive campground along the Maah-Daah-Hey trail north of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The fire started early Sunday afternoon. Officials suspect it might have been caused by an out-of-control campfire.

No injuries were reported and the fire was not threatening any structures, Bushnell said.

``They're thinking it's human-caused, but it's under investigation,'' she said.

Andy Hayze, a fire commander, said evidence of a campfire was found in the area.

Three single-engine tanker airplanes dumped retardant chemicals on the fire Monday. The Forest Service also brought in a helicopter, and a 20-person Bureau of Indian Affairs crew from the Standing Rock reservation also arrived Monday.

The smokejumpers, elite firefighters who parachute to the edge of a blaze, were summoned because the rugged Badlands terrain can be inaccessible by foot, Bushnell said. She said it is rare for smokejumpers to be summoned for a North Dakota fire.

There are no farms or ranches in the area, though officials were worried at one point about several oil wells, Billings County spokeswoman Joan Jurgens said.

``Everything's fine,'' she said Monday night.

Southwestern North Dakota has endured dry conditions this summer. When the blaze started on Sunday, gusts of wind sent flames surging across the grass and brush, Jurgens said.

``We've been dry pretty much all summer long,'' she said. ``This grass out here, when it really gets dry, it just crunches.''