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Crews getting a handle on 2 large wildfires in western North Dakota
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Crews getting a handle on 2 large wildfires in western North Dakota

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Crews appear close to winning the battle against two large wildfires in western North Dakota.

The 4,600-acre Roosevelt Creek Fire in the Little Missouri National Grassland was 70% contained on Monday, and "I think we're feeling pretty good about where we're at, at this point," said Misty Hays, district ranger for the grassland's Medora Ranger District. 

A fire on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation had grown to 9,800 acres but was 75% contained Monday, and "We're hoping to be close to 95% containment by the end of today," said Marle Baker, fire management officer for the Three Affiliated Tribes and chief of the Mandaree Volunteer Fire Department. 

Both fires are in remote, rugged terrain. Together they have scorched 22 ½ square miles, an area that's greater than the size of Minot.

The grassland fire started Wednesday about 6 miles north of the Wannagan Campground, north of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It threatened multiple structures as well as oil and gas infrastructure, but no structures have been lost and no injuries have been reported, according to Hays.

"Yesterday we did get a little bit of moisture, and it was cooler yesterday -- that has improved conditions a fair amount," she said.

A National Interagency Fire Center air tanker based out of South Dakota and North Dakota National Guard helicopters that had been helping fight the fire were released Sunday, according to Hays. South Dakota National Guard helicopters have been released from the reservation fire, according to Baker.

That fire started Saturday about 10 miles south of Mandaree. Authorities suspect a burning coal seam was the cause.

The fire burned one home, but it was not occupied at the time, according to Baker. No injuries have been reported in the fire.

Near-critical fire weather conditions existed in western North Dakota on Monday, according to the National Weather Service. But the weather this week should be much cooler and potentially wetter than last week.

The weather service forecast calls for a chance of precipitation -- rain or possibly snow -- Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. AccuWeather reported that temperatures in the Upper Midwest could be 5-15 degrees below normal for this time of year, due in part to a dip in the jet stream.

"Many locations could see temperatures drop below 32 degrees during the overnight hours on Tuesday, posing the risk for a frost, especially in normally colder spots," AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyssa Smithmyer said. 

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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