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A sign alerting the temporary closure of a portion of the Maah Daah Hey Trail rests next to a Forest Service truck near Bennett Campground Saturday.

Wildfire burns Grasslands: Portion of Maah Daah Hey Trail is shut down

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The U.S. Forest Service executed an order Saturday to close a portion of the Maah Daah Hey Trail due to a wildfire in the Dakota Prairie Grasslands area northwest of Grassy Butte.

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Close to 80 firefighters continued to fight the newly dubbed Cottonwood Creek fire, as a plot of the trail from the southern boundary of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park to County Road 50 was closed to the public, according to a release from the Forest Service.

Along with its location in the rugged and hilly Badlands, the approximately 600-acre fire was causing some additional problems for firefighters as of Saturday afternoon, said Butch Fleck of the Grassy Butte Fire Department.

"It seemed pretty tame (Saturday) morning, but there are some spots that are really flaring up," Fleck said. "You just don't know in these hills. We thought it was pretty good until the humidity started to drop and the temperature started to rise."

The fire, located eight miles northwest of Grassy Butte or 30 miles southwest of Watford City, started Friday afternoon. No residences or structures were threatened as of Saturday evening, but several people recreating at the Bennett Campground near the fire were evacuated Friday.

Forest Service Ranger Jay Frederick said firefighters were aided Saturday by a Forest Service helicopter, which was brought in from Montana. Frederick was on scene at the fire early Saturday afternoon.

"It's still very early in the process," he said. "A lot can change, but we have a number of people working on this fire. So far, we just have minor damage to some fencing and trail postings."

Fleck said a number of construction companies that have projects in the area were lending equipment in an effort to allow firefighters to navigate the unpredictable terrain.

"We're doing all we can right now," Fleck said. "A lot of it is a waiting game now. Right now, we don't have much of this fire contained. Hopefully, conditions will improve."

The cause of the fire was under investigation, said Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Babete Anderson.

The Little Swallow fire on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation also continued to burn Saturday, although no new information was available from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Located nine miles south of Mandaree, the Little Swallow fire was listed Saturday as a 6,000-acre fire that was "40 percent contained," according to the National Interagency Fire Center's webpage.

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Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
(701) 456-1207
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