27 displaced as fire destroys small town
No one was injured in the fire that swept through late Wednesday, but the rural town is "pretty much completely lost," Adams County State's Attorney Aaron Roseland said.
The county commission chairman said the fire destroyed four homes and two abandoned farms in the town about 60 miles south of Dickinson. Chuck Christman said seven structures, a church and a grain elevator were spared from the blaze that was pushed by near 70 mph winds. The town's only business, a picture-framing shop, was destroyed, while trees and buildings including homes still smoldered Thursday, he said.
Christman said the blaze scorched an area six miles long and half a mile wide and also downed about 50 power poles and set railroad ties on a nearby train track ablaze
"A lifetime of memories (is) gone for at least four families," Christman said early Thursday. "People are rummaging through their losses. Everyone is pretty heavily grieved."
Edward and Angela McClusky's 80-year-old home was one of the structures destroyed by the fire. The couple, who live in a Washington, D.C. suburb, had planned to move back to the town in a few years to retire.
"This is very upsetting," Edward McClusky, 52, said of the loss of the picturesque white, two-story home where he grew up. "It's very sad that this has happened to all the people."
"We always wanted to go home and retire there," said McClusky, an electrical engineer.
McClusky said he and his wife planned to return to their hometown soon to sift through the rubble where their red-roofed home once stood.
Winds continued to gust at more than 50 mph and a light drizzle fell Thursday but the moisture did little to douse hotspots in the area, Christman said.
Authorities were investigating the source of the fire that began Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters from more than a dozen nearby towns and agencies helped fight the blaze, officials said.
Mayor Steve Turner, who also is a volunteer firefighter, said creeks and area farmers who used tractors to dig fire lines did much to stop the spread of the blaze.
"They did it on their own," the mayor said of farmers who helped control the fire. "We didn't contact them. They just showed up."
A shelter was set up in the nearby town of Hettinger, where residents did all they could to make their neighbors feel welcome.
"People opened up their homes. They brought food. It just makes you proud to be from a small community. Everyone pitched in, Christman said. "A lot of strangers with water trucks came in from the oil fields. Thank goodness for cellphones and radios."
The state Department of Transportation said in a statement that it temporarily shut down a portion of U.S. Highway 12 Wednesday night, but reopened it again early Thursday.
A dry summer and fall have produced an extreme fire risk in the region and conditions were ripe Thursday for more wildfires, with winds forecast to gust to more than 50 mph. No rain was expected.
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