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Dark and smokey Friday afternoon caused by prescribed fire

The "Donut Hole Fire" was held in the south part of the park and burned around 12,000 acres. Harvey Brock / The Dickinson Press

The Dickinson area turned smokey and dark Friday afternoon.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park had a prescribed fire on Friday, May 4. The fire was called the Donut Hole Fire, and they burned around 12,000 acres.

"There are specific conditions that have to be met for this kind of burn, and it is called a prescription," said Eileen Andes the chief of interpretation and public affairs at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The fire was in the section of the south unit of the park in the scenic loop drive where there are around 12,000 acres, but not all of it burned. Some of it didn't burn because it was rock. Other areas didn't burn because there was moisture from recent snow and rain that has not dried out completely.

"We cannot get the total area that was burned until we do mapping later on to be more accurate," said Andes.

There are three main reason that there are prescribed fires held with the first one being, to improve the grazing for the grazing animals. Fires put nutrients back into the soil and in areas that have been burned in the park green up quickly during this time of the year.

"After the burn, that is where the wildlife is going to be. It is really nutritious and natural grasses," said Andes. "Within a week or less, depending on moisture, we are going to see green in those areas."

The second reason for having the fire is that the area of the fire has not seen fire on it for 100 years or more. According to Andes, the build up of heavy fuel mostly consists of junipers, which usually grow on north-facing slopes and in areas with more moisture.

"Junipers burn really hot and fast, so we want a situation where we can reduce the fuel load, and we have the resources like people and fire engines who can be on hand to control the fire," said Andes.

The third reason the park does a prescribed fire is to return fire back to the natural landscape because it is an essential part of the ecosystem.

"We would like to get back to a regular cycle of fire," said Andes.

Due to the wind, towns east of the burn were affected.

"I called the park up and told them that we have kids running around town with asthma," said Mayor Leo Schneider of Belfield. "We were outside and went uptown to have tea and came back outside a half-hour later, and our car hoods were covered with soot from the fire. That is uncalled for."

The park wants to make sure they have the resources to do these types of fires safely so they brought in fire crews and engines from other area and agencies. There were crews from other national parks, Fish and Wildlife Service and from the North Dakota Department of Forestry.

"There was a news release put out a couple weeks ago about prescribed fires, and (we) put another release out on Thursday afternoon," said Andes.

Schneider said, "They could have at least watched the wind direction—could have had the wind from the south, then burn it."

He also mentioned that they could at least call the mayors of the cities downwind and let them know when they are going to set prescribed fires.

The fire got a little out of the perimeter, but that is why there are fire engines on the road patrolling those areas and putting them out right away, said Andes. It is important to have the resources necessary in the places you need them to make sure the fire does what you want it to do, she said.

"It is really teamwork and a lot of cooperation that make these work," said Andes.

During the fire, the south unit was closed for safety. It reopened on Saturday at 11:45, but one trail still is closed as of Monday. They are working on reopening it by making sure there are no hot spots and it is safe.

"When people come into the park in the next couple of weeks, you are going to see some areas that have been burned where there will be very green vegetation, and that is going to be a very good place to see wildlife," Andes mentioned.

The park says that they study the weather before they do any prescribed burn. They were actually supposed to have it on Saturday.