An explosion of unknown origins was reported near the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park Sunday evening, causing a small grass fire that was quickly contained.
The extremely loud explosion was likened to the sound of a bomb going off and ignited near where a pickup had been rolled down a steep embankment and abandoned several weeks earlier.
The 1.5-acre fire was on a state school land section about a quarter mile from the park.
Park, U.S. Forest Service and the volunteer Arnegard firefighters showed up at the scene.
The situation is still under investigation, though by whom isn’t exactly clear. Because the incident occurred on state, not federal, land, spokesmen for the Forest Service and park service say the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department will investigate.
Two calls to the McKenzie County sheriff’s office were not returned, so who owned the pickup is unknown.
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Oscar Knudtson, fire chief for the Forest Service’s McKenzie District, said whatever exploded, “The pickup didn’t go off by itself. There was some type of human activity. It was an explosion, but as far as what was used to make it, I don’t know.”
Knudtson said the Forest Service has had issues with shooters using what are called “exploding targets,” which are illegal on agency lands, and starting fires. Knudtson said he responded to a fire started in that manner earlier Sunday in far western North Dakota south of Cartwright.
Park resource manager Bill Whitworth said there were reports of vehicles at the scene prior to the incident and said the noise, reported by a park staffer, “was the loudest noise he’d heard. It definitely was an explosion.”
Whitworth said it’s possible that someone was trying to destroy the abandoned pickup. “I doubt it just blew up on its own,” he said.
Whether the pickup was further destroyed by the explosion and fire isn’t clear. Reports are mixed and it was badly damaged from rolling down the embankment.