Tumbleweeds are the least of it

Near-hurricane force winds of 60-plus miles per hour have hit the Dickinson area for the past two days. Yesterday, I woke up to the sound of wind outside my window — I can’t remember that ever happening. Apparently it is due to a strong mix of low and high pressure in the atmosphere from the east and the west that hits smack in southwestern North Dakota.

Driving down local roads and highways, not only did you have to watch out for the big semis from area oilfields, you also had to brace yourself from the onslaught of giant tumbleweeds headed straight toward your car.

Tumbleweeds pile up along Highway 22 in south Dickinson after two days of very high winds. (Photo by Sid Pranke

A whole small town about 60 miles south of Dickinson — Bucyrus — was nearly all burned to the ground yesterday — see link to article and photos written by my colleagues Bryan Horwarth and Katherine Grandstrand. According to an Adams County sheriff’s office spokesperson, the fire last night stretched from the Highway 12 intersection east to mile marker 69. The Dickinson Press is doing an update on the fire today.

I was supposed to tour a Marathon Oil site today with Congressman Rick Berg but that got cancelled for safety considerations due to the high winds. When I spoke with an aide to Congressman Berg in Washington, D.C. early this morning, he told me about the cancelled tour, but had not yet heard of the tragedy at the city of Bucyrus.

I drove to Bucyrus about 2 p.m. today (Oct. 17) to survey the damage, but after about three minutes, was approached by a sheriff’s vehicle, who basically told me I needed leave. Quickly. He said the governor had declared a state of emergency and that they were closing the road that went into town. So I took a few photos and headed back to Dickinson.

The haze of the fire in Bucyrus can be seen around the town’s elevator, which still stands after the fire destroyed much of the town. (Photo by Sid Pranke)

When I returned to Dickinson, I called the governor’s office and asked about the state of emergency. I was told the following:

“On Sept. 5, Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a statewide rural fire emergency. The executive order applies statewide, but restrictions only apply to counties based on the National Weather Services’ fire danger index.  I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that he did declare a fire emergency. What it requires is for locals to refer to the fire index, and if their county is in the National Weather Services’ fire index and it is very high or extreme, then there are certain triggers that are put in place.” — Jeff Zent of Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s office

Zent sent me the Sept. 5 press release that announced the statewide rural fire emergency. Here’s and excerpt: “In declaring a rural fire emergency, Dalrymple activated the state Emergency Operations Plan which allows the state to provide equipment and other resources to help local and tribal officials in the event of fire outbreak.”

As I was surveying the area, I noticed utility trucks scrambling to check lines in the area. Much of the several miles around town were still smoking and the winds were still very high. Firefighters and officials definitely have their hands full.

My prayers go out to the families that experienced this tragedy.