‘Some of the scorched trees were 80-90 years old’: A look at the Medora fire, and a look ahead

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Crews are still working to extinguish the fire that started burning near Medora Thursday afternoon.

The Billings County Rural Fire District Chief says at this point, officials believe 3,000 acres have burned.

Thursday night, the number was closer to 9,600 — more than triple that.

We’ve been in Medora since sunrise Friday morning, and have the latest on what it all means for the future of what’s now a black patch in the beloved badlands.

“Initially we really didn’t know how many miles it was around the fire,” said Kyle Shockley, the Billings County Fire Chief.

We asked the Billings County Fire Chief how the initial gauge of the acreage burned was three times what we know now.

He said it was very preliminary — and with the wind blowing the smoke, estimation was a difficult task.

We learned Thursday, the billowing flames and clouds of smoke were the result of a downed power line.

“This is something we do see. Yeah, generally a couple of times a year at least,” Shockley said.

“It doesn’t usually result, I imagine, in a fire of this magnitude?”

“Correct,” he replied.

“This year we just went into the winter with a drought. And then, yeah, you’re looking at the conditions right now. It’s really dry around the whole state,” said Hunter Noor.

Noor is the assistant crew leader for the state fire service.

Noor says the past couple of years haven’t seen a huge fire season like we’re seeing now — with multiple fires burning across the state in one day, yesterday.

He wasn’t sure exactly how many but said there were a few.

“We’re on standby, you know, for other ones. It’s a red flag warning today, so if anything pops up it will probably go up pretty decent, so we keep that in the back of our minds every day,” Noor said.

“It was not a surprise,” said Rodney Skalsky.
Rodney Skalsky, with the National Park Service, runs the Fire Management program for five states.

We asked him, as far as restoring the land, how far gone is it? And how is this going to affect the environment?

“Well mother nature is really resilient, so it’s evolved with fire forever,” Skalsky replied.

“That said, a cycle of growth will take years — some of the scorched trees were 80-90 years old.”

We asked him if he worries about what’s contained now spreading further, or this happening again.

“I’m worried about it happening again. We’ve got a pretty decent handle on what we have,” Skalsky said.

The Fire Chief says there still hasn’t been a single report of structural damage or injuries.

Skalsky says he doesn’t foresee conditions changing soon…meaning North Dakota must continue to be on high alert.

Crews are still at it this evening.

The latest from the Fire Chief is about 50 percent of the fire is left to contain. He expects there are days left of work to do.

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