Wildfire evacuees return to North Dakota tourist town

National

A wildfire smolders near the Burning Hills Amphitheatre Thursday, April 1, 2021 near Medora, N.D. Officials say firefighters have stopped a wildfire from spreading in the western North Dakota tourist town of Medora, where its 100 residents were forced to evacuate. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Residents of a small western North Dakota tourist town forced to evacuate as a large wildfire approached have been able to return to their homes.

The city of Medora, with its population of about 100, was evacuated Thursday as firefighters worked to stop the blaze from spreading. Authorities on Friday reduced the estimated size of the fire from about 15 square miles (38 square kilometers) to about 4 1/2 square miles (10 square kilometers).

There were no reports of injuries or damaged structures in the community, which is on the doorstep of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Crews spared the Burning Hills Amphitheatre, home to the Medora Musical.

The blaze started a few miles southwest of the city Thursday, with the wind blowing the flames toward the community, according to Misty Hayes, Medora district ranger for the Little Missouri National Grassland.

Officials said Thursday night that crews had stopped the blaze from spreading, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

A 45-mile (72-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 94, from Belfield to Beach, was temporarily closed but reopened Thursday night. Residents were allowed to return to their homes a short time later, said Beth Hill, acting outreach and education manager for the North Dakota Forest Service.

The fire began shortly before 1:30 p.m. local time, according to Billings County Chief Deputy Maj. Dean Wyckoff.

“It was an electrical line that sagged and arced and started the fire,” he said.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum declared a statewide fire emergency Thursday because of drought conditions.

Burgum said the North Dakota National Guard would deploy two Black Hawk helicopters to assist in battling the Medora blaze. Multiple agencies responded to the fire.

North Dakota has seen a growing number of wildfires with extreme drought conditions across the state. Burgum had placed the National Guard on standby earlier Thursday.

The National Drought Mitigation Center report shows nearly half the state is seeing drought conditions. The North Dakota Forest Service has tracked than 140 wildfires that have burned over 46 square miles (120 square kilometers).

In South Dakota, a wildfirethreatened homes in Pennington County this week forcing residents in more than 400 houses to evacuate. The Sheriff’s Office said Friday all evacuations have been lifted in the Nemo area.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial reopened Thursday after it was closed because of the spreading wildfire.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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