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Third Black Hawk helicopter pressed into service

Third Black Hawk helicopter pressed into service


A third Black Hawk helicopter was called into service as University of Mary students evacuated early Tuesday evening as a grass fire approached the campus. The university has been closed for the night.

Some students were transported  to the Lewis Goodhouse Wellness Center at United Tribes Technical College.

"I took my parents' Suburban and tried to pick up students who didn't have rides," said student Jason Shipman, a senior at the university and a former student body president. 

Shipman reported that he picked up one other student, but most had rides available.

Shipman, who resides in the new Monte Cassino apartments on campus, says his is the only building not made of concrete.

"I'm just sitting there, like 'please, do not catch fire,'" he said of the Sheetrock and wood structure.

Thomas Stromme, a junior at U-Mary, said that firefighters evacuated him and those attending a softball game at the university minutes before a campus alert was sent because flames could be seen advancing fast up hill towards the south part of campus.

Stromme said, as he was leaving, the flames looked to be next to his apartment on the north side of campus and flames appeared to be wrapping around the hill.

Firefighters were hosing down everything in front of the apartment buildings to create a line where they would hold off the fire and they were turning students away, according to Stromme.

Another student, Maria Becker, has reported that many students are driving into Bismarck to stay with friends who have apartments in town.

"It was crazy because I could see flames outside my window," she said. 

Despite firefighter efforts this afternoon to keep a grass fire south of the University of Mary from rekindling, the blaze did exactly that.

Mary Senger, Burleigh County's emergency manager, said the fire reignited at 4:10 p.m. and an evacuation order is in effect for the South Fork Junction area. In addition, southern portions of the University of Mary's campus are being evacuated and the awards banquet and classes have been canceled, according to school emergency texts.

A previous report from Senger stated that the fire already had burned 1,512 acres of land.

Weather conditions today were optimal for fire activity, with gusts up to 39 mph and a high temperature forecast of 80 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The fire, which began Monday, coincided with a decision by Gov. Jack Dalrymple to extend a statewide emergency through the month of April. The ban was set to expire Wednesday. Under the declaration, any area where there is a red flag warning or the fire danger index rating is high, very high or extreme carries an automatic burn ban.

The entire state is under a red flag warning on Tuesday.

The Bismarck Rural Fire Department monitored the fire site overnight and stayed there throughout the day.

A Burleigh County grader widened the fire line, and the North Dakota National Guard deployed a Black Hawk helicopter to aid in operations. That helicopter ceased operations at noon on Tuesday.

Guard spokesman Bill Prokopyk said two helicopters used 900 gallons of fuel and dropped 101 600-gallon buckets of water on the flames Monday. That assistance, while valuable, isn't cheap.

Senger said her office pursued every other avenue of support — calling in mutual aid from Mandan, Wilton, Sterling, North Dakota Game and Fish and the Civil Air Patrol — before asking for National Guard support.

When the Black Hawks fly, it's the counties paying for the fuel and staff, including two pilots and two crew chiefs per helicopter, a fueler and an operations supervisor.

"That's always the misnomer with the North Dakota National Guard. Everyone thinks they're free. They're not," Senger said.

-- Karee Magee and Amy Sisk contributed to this story.

(Reach Andrew Sheeler at 701-250-8225 or


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