BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The first big wildfire in North Dakota during a summer of drought grew to 8 square miles on Monday and shut down a long stretch of a hiking, biking and horseback riding trail that draws thousands of people from around the U.S., Canada and Europe.
The Magpie Fire was in a remote area of the Little Missouri National Grassland in the western part of the state and not threatening any homes, people or livestock, but the U.S. Forest Service shut down two campgrounds and a 40-mile (64.37-kilometer) stretch of the 144-mile (231.73-kilometer) Maah Daah Hey Trail system.
“The fire is kind of in the middle of that stretch,” Forest Service spokeswoman Treva Slaughter said.
The closure should be only a minor inconvenience, as most trail visitors don’t traverse the whole route, said Curtis Glasoe, president of the Maah Daah Hey Trail Association.
The fire began Saturday afternoon in an area that the U.S. Drought Monitor map shows as having drought conditions ranging from severe to extreme. It reached 5 ½ square miles (12.95 sq. kilometers) on Sunday and grew to 8 square miles (20.72 sq. kilometers), or 5,100 acres, on Monday. About 90 percent of the scorched area was federal land, but some private land with no structures also was affected. Some cattle grazing areas burned, but there were no animals there at the time, Slaughter said.
About 85 federal, state and local firefighters had the blaze about 15 percent contained by midday Monday. There was no estimate on full containment, but containment lines were holding early Monday afternoon, Slaughter said.
The fire was being fought on the ground, with air support not deemed necessary on Monday. Airspace over the fire still was closed to private planes and helicopters.
The cause of the fire wasn’t immediately determined, though it appeared unlikely it was sparked by bad weather.
“We really didn’t see much for lightning” in the area on Saturday, National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Edwards said. “You can’t rule out a straggler strike, but … there were just some light showers that passed through to the north.”
The fire is the first large blaze this summer in western North Dakota, nearly all of which is in some stage of drought. Most of the region is considered in moderate fire danger, according to the state Department of Emergency Services, and 31 of the 40 counties in central and western North Dakota have implemented burn bans.
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