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Bowman, ND 58623

 

Moonshine wildfire scars face of Slim Butte in Custer National Forest

April 03, 2015

 

Jonathon Moor, public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, points to the area at the west of Slim Butte that has been extinguished. (Photo by Bryce Martin | Pioneer)
Jonathan Moor, public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, points to the area at the west of Slim Butte on Friday that has been extinguished. (Photo by Bryce Martin | Pioneer)

By Bryce Martin | Pioneer Editor | bmartin@countrymedia.net

Just as they were demobilizing from the scene of a wildfire near Camp Crook, S.D., several already exhausted fire crews this week were alerted to a 4,000-acre wildfire near Slim Butte on the far east side of Harding County.

With moderate winds and dry conditions, extinguishing the fire was going to be a battle.

More than 25 fire engines, including some from the and Fire Departments, were assigned to fight the flames that were first reported April 1 by a local volunteer fire department.

The fire, nicknamed “Moonshine,” grew in an area located about 15 miles east of , S.D., at the north end of the Slim Buttes Land Unit.

The Moonshine Fire as it burns near Slim Butte on April 1. (Photo courtesy Jonathan Moor)
The as it burns near Slim Butte on April 1. (Photo courtesy Jonathan Moor)

Only 5 to 7 percent of the fire has since been contained as of Friday.

Jonathan Moor, public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, spent much of his days over the past week inside an incident command post that crews established inside the Buffalo Community Center.

Large stacks of bottled water, bagged lunches, snacks and a big pot of coffee were at a near-reach for the collection of fire crews and other personnel that were stationed nearly all day and night at the center. Together, they’re focused on one task: to see that the Moonshine Fire is contained, extinguished and its effects dealt with properly.

An update on the fire released early Friday said firefighters made good progress the previous day with line tied in around the entire fire. Crews continued on Friday to secure the fire’s perimeter and began mopping up into it.

A helicopter previously dropped flame retardant on the west portion of Slim Butte to deter further progression of the blaze.

Thick smoke clouds the view of Slim Butte from the east. (Photo by Bryce Martin | Pioneer)
Thick smoke clouds the view of Slim Butte from the east. (Photo by Bryce Martin | Pioneer)

A portion of land immediately north of Highway 20 at the south of the butte underwent a controlled burn by crews to deter Moonshine’s progress. Local ranchers also brought in disc plows to disrupt the soil along the north side of the highway to help ward off the fire from crossing.

“It’s truly a joint effort,” Moor said.

The fire, which was dramatically reduced to mostly burning embers and smoldering land over the past few days, no longer boasted large flames as it had earlier in the week. The crews were able to heave a slight sigh of relief, but their job was far from over.

Inside the incident command post in Buffalo, S.D. (Photo by Bryce Martin | Pioneer)
Inside the incident command post in Buffalo, S.D. (Photo by Bryce Martin | Pioneer)

“It could happen to where something is smoldering just a little bit and you get a big wind or it works its way out,” Moor said.

That’s why some crews will stay behind and monitor the burnt land about one week after the fire is out, he explained.

Two firefighters from , whose responsibility on Friday was to provide lookout for any new hints of burning on the south face of Slim Butte, said the Moonshine Fire is probably the largest blaze that their department has handled.

Two ranches stand in the pathway of the fire along with infrastructure and power lines, as well as the Reva Gap Campground on the south side of Highway 20.

Firefighters worked hard to ensure the fire did not cross the highway, which was closed earlier in the week but reopened on Friday — Highway 20 was opened from Highway 79 west near Reva, S.D., to the junction with Highway 85 near Buffalo.

The cause of the fire is currently unknown and is under investigation.

 

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