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Fire burns 2,465 acres

Feeling the heat… Firemen withstand the heat of the fire to spread burning hay bales with rakes to suppress the September 19 blaze.

Wednesday, September 19, at 4:30 p.m. a semi hauling hay north of Exit 177 started on fire, resulting in a blaze that destroyed 2,465 acres of land.
The fire threatened five different residences between Exit 177 and Okaton, both north and south of Interstate 90.
Although no residences were damaged, one shop building near the Flavia Stotts home was destroyed, as well as the abandoned “Stickler Place,” owned by Raymond Stotts.
According to Jones County Deputy Sheriff and Murdo Fire Chief Rich Sylva, a semi carrying bales accidentally ignited the load of bales, then proceeded to drive two miles down the road towards the Interstate, spreading the fire as it went. Sylva said it is unclear as to how the bales actually started on fire.
The blaze swept through the Herman Bork Place, taking with it 382 hay bales, as well as destroying winter grazing pastures and approximately 7.6 miles of fence. To make matters worse, a good portion of that fence was new.
After making its way through the Bork Place, the fire jumped the Interstate and threatened both Flavia Stotts’s residence, as well as the residence of Nathan and Sherri Vander Schaaf. A little further south, Brad and Shawna Roghair’s place was also in danger.
With a strong wind blowing the fire South, Flavia Stotts knew she had to do something, as the firemen had not yet arrived at her house.
With garden hose in hand, she was determined to saturate her dry yard around her house and propane tank.
“Whether that stopped the fire or not, I don’t know. I could see where the firemen had sprayed the north side of the house.”
Stotts said she took her car and drove east to be out of the way of the fire.
“Marty Roghair drove over to report to me that my barn had gone with the fire,” said Stotts.
The fire came within yards of her house and destroyed her barn, but the firemen were able to keep the damage to only that.
Straight south of Stotts’s house, the Brad and Shawna Roghair place was in danger. Clarice Roghair reported that Bob Roghair drove over with his tractor and disk, turning up ground to stop the fire from advancing any closer to the Roghair home.
The Vander Schaaf’s have been threatened by fire more than once this summer. The first time, a fire started in the east bound lane of Interstate 90, and spread up a draw towards their home.
This time, the fire spread even further, coming within less than 100 yards of their home. Sherri Vander Schaaf said that the fire has flared up near their house twice since Wednesday.
Sylva reported that the Murdo Fire Department stayed on the scene of the fire over night on September 19, and has been back every day to monitor and wet down hot spots as needed.
Sixteen fire departments responded to the fire, including: Murdo, Draper, Belvidere, Kadoka, Midland, Philip, Ft. Pierre, Four Corners, Wood, White River, Vivian, Presho, Kennebec and Reliance, as well as the U.S. Forest Service National Grasslands stationed in Ft. Pierre and B.I.A. from Rosebud. The departments were assisted by many neighbors who drove personal fire fighting rigs.
In addition to other departments, Sylva reported that many other services assisted with the fire. They include: Jones County Sheriff, Jones County Ambulance, SD Highway Patrol, Pierre Police Department, State Radio Communications, Rapid City Department of Transportation, SD Office of Emergency Management, Great Plains Dispatch, West Central Electric and Jackson County Emergency Management.
Dean Nelson from West Central Electric reported that 40 powerline poles will have to be replaced as a result of the fire. He said that nobody was out of power for an extended amount of time during the fire. Pole replacement will continue for the next two weeks.
Sylva estimated that 50-60 fire trucks responded, and approximately 120 firemen.
“After the fire jumped the Interstate, I put a call in to Great Plains Dispatch for single engineer air tankers, but before they could get mobilized, we had the fire under control,” said Sylva.
Direct dollar damage reported so far for the fire includes, but is not limited to: Borks’ fence, the hay lost and the buildings that were destroyed. Indirect dollar damage includes winter grazing pastures owned by Borks, and wheat stubble fields that provide cover and keep moisture in the ground.
Sylva said, “Thank you for everyone who brought food and water to the firemen, it really made it easier.”
The Murdo Fire Department has responded to approximately 50 fires so far this year. Eight of those include mutual aid calls, in which the department is called to help another county. Vegetation fires, such as grass or wheat, accounted for 25 of the calls.
Sylva encouraged everyone to be careful when it comes to anything that can cause a fire.
“The season is not done yet,” Sylva reminds.
He said, at this point, rain will help, but it will not stop the fire season.