HETTINGER, N.D. (AP) -- A U.S. Forest Service official has apologized for a fire that burned more than 16 square miles of Dakotas grassland after flames escaped from a prescribed burn southeast of Hettinger.
"The Forest Service is extremely regretful that the fire escaped the containment area," Grand River District Ranger Paul Hancock said during a public meeting Saturday in Hettinger with nearly 100 farmers and ranchers.
Hancock said he gave the go-ahead for the 130-acre prescribed burn, The Dickinson Press reported.
No injuries have been reported, but one farm building has been confirmed lost. The fire in the Grand River National Grasslands burned about 10,800 acres in a rural area between Hettinger and the South Dakota towns of Buffalo and Lemmon. Officials reported the fire was 100 percent contained Sunday, when fire crews were patrolling the area and repairing fences cut during the firefighting effort.
The Forest Service has said it plans to compensate landowners for damage to fences, hay bales and anything else that burned.
Hancock's apology did not sit well with Linda Evridge, whose family ranch near Lemmon was scorched.
"My land and everybody's land in here was beautiful," she told Hancock. "The people in this room know this land better than you do. Do you think you should have called and talked to the people in this room before you burned anything?"
Forest Service officials have said they were intending to burn 130 acres of dead crested wheatgrass when the fire broke containment Wednesday and spread throughout federal and private grasslands due to dry and windy conditions.
Babette Anderson of the Forest Service said the spot weather forecast Wednesday did not include a red flag warning, but she did not have information on the wind speed when the fire broke containment. Ranchers have said they advised the Forest Service not to conduct the burn because a cold front moving through was likely to cause high winds.
Tim Smith, president of the Grand River Cooperative Grazing District, said the association has been against prescribed burns for the district since February because of dry conditions.