Watford City — Wintery weather conditions that developed over this weekend are a welcome sight to the firefighters that have been working the Horse Pasture Fire for the past week. The fire, currently mapped at 5,000 acres, is now 95% contained.
“The weather is certainly giving firefighters a little extra assistance in suppressing the fire; It is a welcome addition to the firefighting effort,” said Lucas Graf, District Ranger for the McKenzie Ranger District of the Little Missouri National Grassland. Prior to this weekend’s wintery rain and snow mix, firefighters had reached 90% containment on the fire. Graf added, “We couldn’t have gotten here without the help of local volunteers, VFDs, and first responders. The weather conditions and fire activity on the [April] 3rd posed a real challenge to those folks, and they did an amazing job of holding the fire, particularly the finger on the northwest side, until air support and additional ground resources could arrive. This cold and wet weather is increasing our confidence in the containment lines established over the past week. We are also grateful for all the food and medical supply donations that we received from the community. That support really went a long way with everyone working the fire.”
Firefighters from local, state, and federal agencies have been battling the Horse Pasture Fire since it was reported on the afternoon of April 3, 2021 on the Little Missouri National Grassland, near the Horse Pasture Dams, located just north of Theodore Roosevelt National Park — North Unit. The fire burned lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, State of North Dakota, and some private lands. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
On Sunday, April 11, 2021 the fire was downgraded to a Type 4 incident. This decrease in complexity was due to the increased containment on the fire and the drawdown of equipment and personnel assigned to the fire. Outgoing Type 3 Incident Commander, Jay Mickey stated, “As resources are no longer needed on a fire, they are released back to their home units and are made available for new assignments. It looks like the summer fire season in the U.S. is already here, and we want to make sure that resources are back at their home units, and ready to respond as needed.”
Firefighters and engines are still assigned to the Horse Pasture Fire and will continue to patrol and monitor for the foreseeable future. Wendy Ross, Superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park stated, “Smoke and flames in the interior of the fire may be visible, especially as vegetation begins to dry out after this recent precipitation. The grassy areas near the fire perimeter are not showing signs of residual heat, however the badlands areas, especially within [Theodore Roosevelt National Park] the park may continue to smoke for the foreseeable future.” Ross added, “As it is safe to do so, we will be reopening portions of the park to allow visitors to see first-hand how nature recovers from fire. As new grass begins to emerge, the bison will be seen feasting on the new growth.”
The McKenzie Ranger District of the Little Missouri National Grassland has lifted a portion of the previous closure order (01-18-08-21-02) for areas south of the Little Missouri River. Areas reopened include the CCC Campground, the Maah Daah Hey Trail from the CCC Campground South to NFSR 823, the Long X and Sunset Trails, Summit Campground, and the Summit Overlook and Viewpoint Trails. In cooperation with the Forest Service, McKenzie County reopened Long X Road west of Highway 85 leading to the CCC Campground.
T Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Unit will open the 14-mile scenic drive, including pullouts, to vehicles beginning Tuesday, April 13, 2021 at 8:00 a.m. All areas north of the scenic drive from the park entrance to the Caprock Coulee Nature Trailhead will remain closed to all visitors, including the Buckhorn Trail (north of the Scenic Drive) and the spur to the Caprock Trail. The Caprock Coulee Nature Trail is open. Backcountry access is prohibited in the closure area, and backcountry camping permits for the closed areas are rescinded until further notice. Areas south of the Scenic Drive, including the Juniper Campground and the Group Campground are open, as is the Achenbach trail and the southern section of the Buckhorn Trail.