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Press Photo by Betsy Simon Two emergency service vehicles drive up East River Road south in Medora Monday in response to a fire that was estimated to cover 51 acres in Plumely Draw area, about eight miles south of Medora. Approximately eight miles of the Maah Daah Hey trail was closed Monday, from Bully Pulpit Trailhead to Plumely Trailhead.

U.S. Forest Service fights Badlands blaze

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The U.S. Forest Service continued to battle a fire in the Badlands Monday evening, about eight miles south of Medora.

No one was injured and no structures threatened as of Monday evening, said Babete Anderson, public affairs officer for the Dakota Prairie Grasslands/U.S. Forest Service. The fire burned into heavy juniper at the bottom of ravines, Anderson said, and about eight miles of the Maah Daah Hey trail is closed -- from Bully Pulpit Trailhead to Plumely Trailhead.

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Additional resources also were called in Monday, including three engines, two hand crews and a helicopter for water drops, she said. Hand crews walk onto the fire site and place down fire lines and dig up the dirt surrounding the fire, in an attempt to create a barrier to help contain it.

By mid-afternoon, the fire was estimated to cover 51 acres and was not contained, Anderson said. Fire officials believe the fire could have started as early as Saturday.

"We're thinking it was started by lightning. There's been a few storm systems through the area over the last few days," Anderson said.

Pat Rummel, emergency manager and chief deputy for the Billings County Sheriff's Office, said his office received two calls reporting the fire at about 6 p.m. Sunday. The calls came from an area fire department worker and a paramedic. The Billings County Fire District was the initial responder to the blaze, battling the fire until 12:30 Monday morning.

"They (the Billings County Fire District) brought out grass units (water tanks on the back of pickup trucks) and a six-wheeler," Rummel said. "It's a remote area, hard to get to."

Visitors to Medora's Pitchfork Fondue and Musical on Sunday night also noticed the large plumes of smoke, as well as shooting flames.

Original estimates on the scope of the fire were much higher than the 51 acres now reported by the U.S. Forest Service.

Rummel said he believed the area was smoldering by early Monday morning, but he thought that the fire had been contained.

But Ron Jablonski, district manager for the U.S. Forest Service, Medora Ranger District, said the fire was not contained as of Monday afternoon and no perimeter had been established.

"Our folks are not done with this fire," he said.

Fire officials use global positioning systems to help map the extent of fires, Jablonski said. When the U.S. Forest Service took over the operation, the size estimates of the fire were lowered from the 350-acre estimate originally given by Rummel to a new U.S. Forest Service estimate of 25 to 30 acres early Monday. The Forest Service then raised the estimate to 51 acres by mid-afternoon.

Jablonski said the discrepancy over the size may be explained by the timing.

"It's hard to figure out acreage at night and it got dark on them (Billings County Fire District)," he said. "A lot of times, you won't get a GPS on a fire unless it's actually done, because you're spending all your time fighting the fire."

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