Heavy smoke wafted across Interstate 94, just west of Dickinson, as the indistinguishable smell of fire clung to the bitter cold air. Around 9:31 a.m., Dickinson Rural Fire Department received a call for service in response to a residential fire near 16th Avenue Southwest. Firetrucks were on scene within 10 minutes and quickly set to the task of extinguishing the flames.
It was a theater of fire and ice, played out on the North Dakota prairie for the highest of stakes.
With the assistance of the South Heart Fire Department, the first responders battled against strong, cold winds, which significantly hampered their efforts of putting out the fire.
Within minutes, Firefighters were covered head to toe in a thin layer of ice. The situation forced first responders to not only battle the flames, but North Dakota’s cold winter elements. In shifts, they rotated out of the fight to change out gloves and gear as necessary before returning to their duties.
“It's always a bad day when there is a fire, but the cold makes it much, much worse,” Jessie Olsen, the fire chief of the SHFD, said. “It made it a bit of a challenge today, but Dickinson did a great job responding and were happy to assist.”
Despite the multitude of obstacles facing the firefighters, members of the rural fire department were able to finally access the basement level of the home — where the fire was emanating from.
Stark County Sheriff’s Office deputy and volunteer rural firefighter, Eldon Mehrer, explained the challenges faced by those on the ground.
“The extreme cold weather certainly was an obstacle,” Mehrer said. “ When it is this cold, pumps don't want to run, hoses and nozzles wanted to freeze up ... so it was just battling those things to keep the water flow going as best as we could.”
Another obstacle faced by the firefighters was a lack of water. In a sustained firefight of the magnitude faced by those on scene, getting sufficient water was a challenge. According to one of the firefighters, an estimated 50,000 gallons of water was used to quench the blaze — much of which was brought to the scene in vehicles.
The family suffered no injuries and were all able to make it out of the home before the raging fire claimed too much of their home to prevent escape. While their spirits were admittedly low, they was relieved that their family was safe and sound. Jessica Dukart said that she was grateful for the firefighters who were braving both the cold and the heat in the prolonged fight.
“I just want to thank the fire departments that came out in this terrible weather,” Dukart said. “Especially the volunteers and the South Heart Fire Department who came today.”
Mehrer shared with The Press that while the initial causes are yet unknown, he believes that a loud explosion was heard from the basement of the home.
“From statements from the homeowner, it sounds as though an explosion in the basement level of the home may be the culprit,” he said. “The fire had already spread through the lower level of the home, and thankfully they immediately called 911.”
As flames slowly turned to smoke and ash, firefighters turned their efforts to quenching their hunger with McDonald’s cheeseburgers.
“We fought it all day without any injuries to our firefighters,” said Mehrer.