Rising from the ashes

A tiny dot on a map, a quaint little farm town with some houses and a church that when driving through is there and gone in a blink.

The town of Bucyrus may have taken a hard hit from the fire, but the people of the town and surrounding areas are doing everything they can to soften the blow.

By JAMIE SPAINHOWER

Record Editor

 

A tiny dot on a map, a quaint little farm town with some houses and a church that when driving through is there and gone in a blink.

Population 27, some of the people still living in Bucyrus, some were retired farmers who “moved to town” when the kids took over the farm and there were a few new comers.

It was seeing a small boom again when United Harvest decided to build a 1 million bushel capacity grain elevator on the outskirts and everyone watched as some 200 plus acres of farmland became beehive of activity – roads were built, 8,000 feet of loop rail track put down and the eight bins of concrete were “slipped” just weeks ago.

Then the wind started to blow on Oct. 17, and by evening the town was evacuated and a 10-mile wide wall of fire came through, taking four homes and the only business in town, along with several outbuildings.

Firefighters came from as far away as Bison, S.D. and the Forest Service had trucks on hand as well as Reeder, Bowman, Hettinger and Lodgepole.

“The fire fighters were over the top as far as the job they did,” said Adams County Commissioner Kathy Vliem. “I can’t stress enough how impressed I am and proud of each and everyone that helped.”

Safety for all is always the number one priority.

“Highway 12 was shut down by our local police due to no visibility and for the safety of our people fighting the fire,” said Vliem. Law enforcement from several counties came to help with roadblocks and Highway 12 was closed due to fire jumping the road and heavy smoke. Hettinger was put on alert for possible evacuation.

Many think the turning point came with the farmers – who didn’t hesitate but got the drills out and started making firebreaks.

“That fire was tough and the area farmers, ranchers, and county workers brought equipment, risking their lives in front of the fire. If fire, farm or county equipment fails you, just try out-running a fire with horrendous winds a foot.

One tractor was found still burning Thursday morning in a ditch.

“It was dangerous out there for everyone,” said Adams County Commissioner Chuck Christman. “The fire can shift and trap you before you know what’s happening.”

And while there are good lights on the tractors pulling the drills, in the pitch black and roiling smoke, visibility was not good.

Christman said having people out who knew the land was a huge bonus. “There were upwards of 20 outfits with discs on them out there,” he said. “No one knows how many volunteers were really out there. It could have been a much worse disaster.”

The fire, which began about 2 p.m., was deemed “contained” five miles from Hettinger shortly after midnight, but the wind continued to blow and many places were still smoldering. It is still not known what started the fire, but the lack of moisture and dry grass gave it plenty of fuel, along with the winds pushing the fire along.

Volunteers come running

Volunteers during such an event rarely want recognition for what they did, but Vliem said they are the silent heroes in such times.

There isn’t usually an opportunity for many who helped to be a part of such commitment and they are volunteers, she said. They taking hours away from family and work time for training to be able to handle events like the fire, risking their lives and property to help.

“There were many unknown people out moving cattle to a safer place, or helping pack important items to take in a small window of time. Our local radio station was on the air to assist in any information needed for our listeners safety,” she said.

Assistance came from Reeder, Scranton, Hettinger, New England, Regent, and (from South Dakota) Lemmon, Lodgepole, Bison, Grand River, Harding County and Perkins County. The National Guard remained on standby, as did a fourth truck from the North Dakota Forest Service.

Crews from Hettinger, Reeder and the National Forest Service worked through the night and all day Thursday and through Friday to make sure no hot spots decided to flare up and start it all over again.

When a major event strikes a town, everyone comes out to help. Food and water were brought to the firemen on scene, relief crews were on standby, and water trucks came from oil fields so there was plenty of water wherever it was needed.

One resident said it was like a tornado, where the fire hit this house, took this one, in no apparent order.

According to Christman, when the smoke cleared Thursday morning approximately 6,000 acres (nine square miles) had burned, but “… harvest had been completed, so no crops or livestock were lost.”

The fire skipped over a hay field, but took down a three-mile stretch of power poles stretching from Highway 12 Junction to Highway 22, many were burned, all were scorched, but MDU had power back on before the weekend.

A fund has been set up at the Dakota Plains Federal Credit Union, said DPFCU President and CEO Peter Butterfield.

“We have also made $50,000 available in our Lemmon and Hettinger branches for low-interest loans of up to $5,000 per person,” to help get residents back on their feet. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may do so at the either the Lemmon or Hettinger branches; Bucyrus Disaster Relief Fund, Dakota Plains Federal credit Union, 221 S. Main St., PO Box 1020, Hettinger, ND 58639.

“What a great bunch of people we have,” said Vliem.