April 21, 2015

Oil well flare to blame for grass fire

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

Last week, on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 14, a flare from a Whiting Oil site started a fire that ended up burning just over 3,000 acres by the time it was contained and put out. The majority of the land that burned in McKenzie County, near the Tobacco Garden campground, was federal land – managed by the Forest Service.
“The smoke was like a blanket covering the car,” said Karolin Rockvoy, McKenzie County Emergency Services manager. “It was worse than a blizzard. The fire moved so fast, it was like water spilling down a hill. Most of the land that burned was Forest Service land. The only structures that burned were ‘a couple of mice-infested trailers.’ That’s how the property owner described the structures that burned on his property.”
Just one day before the large fire broke out, Governor Dalrymple had extended his statewide fire emergency and burn ban through April 30. In the Governor’s Executive Order, it outlined that the “statewide burn ban is in effect for areas in the North Dakota Fire Danger Rating designated as High, Very High, or Extreme, and/or when a Red Flag Warning has been issued for an area. This burn ban prohibits controlled burns in these designated areas. Additionally, burning will be allowed in designated areas with a Low or Moderate Fire Danger Rating upon approval of the local response authority who has jurisdiction over the designated area.” The order was put into effect through April 30, 2015, unless rescinded or extended.
As of 4 p.m. on April 14, fire crews from Watford City, Keene, and Mandaree were on site waiting for water. They were waiting for the Forest Service to arrive, as well as water trucks from Power Fuels – now a part of Nuverra Environmental Solutions. McKenzie County Rural Fire and the New Town Fire crews also joined in the effort to help contain the blazing fire. McKenzie County Sheriff’s deputies also responded to help control traffic and close Highway 1806 for a period of time.
“Those guys worked the fire all night,” said Rockvoy. “And the fire did come back up through the night. However, the fire was contained and put out sometime the following morning. There are still hot spots that will be checked over the next five to six days. With these fires, there’s always stuff burning underneath – in the root system, and there are hot spots down there.”
After the fire was contained on the morning of April 15, McKenzie County Commissioner Vawnita Best, Jon Cameron from U.S. Senator Hoeven’s office, and McKenzie County Emergency Services personnel toured the disaster area.
“Thankfully, everything turned out okay,” said Rockvoy. “I’m glad we have our state Disaster Emergency Services office. And I’m so happy for the joint effort made by all the fire departments, the Forest Service, the deputies, Power Fuels, and everyone else involved in responding to this fire.”
According to Rockvoy, Whiting Oil was doing everything they could to make things right.
“Whiting is a good company and a good community partner,” stated Rockvoy. “They’re great to work with and I know they are doing everything they can.”