Prairie Chicken Festival on course despite fire

Alisa Boswell

A fire that broke out nearly 10 miles west of Crossroads on Saturday afternoon burned nearly 25,000 acres of land.

Milnesand Fire Department Chief John Mohon said the fire, aided by winds of 45 to 55 miles per hour, jumped Highway 258, came close to Highway 206 and missed Milnesand by about one mile.

He said the incident would have no effect on the 10th annual High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival which will be held Friday through Sunday.

He said as a precaution all of Milnesand was evacuated due to the direction of the fire and wind. Mohon said 10 structures were threatened, but they were all saved. Along with grass, only three car shells were burned.

“I just want to give credit to all the departments that helped,” Mohon said. “All of Roosevelt County is a community in itself. We all work together as one team. We have to with these large grass fires.”

He said 10 fire departments and four sheriff’s departments were involved in aid, along with three units from the Roswell Bureau of Land Management and five Roosevelt County road graders.

The fire covered 18 miles in length, with an average of 1.5 miles in width.

Mohon said they believed the incident to be contained Sunday morning at 20,000 acres, but winds flared the fire up again, burning another 5,000 acres and causing firefighters to be sent out again.

“I’m not declaring it 100 percent contained yet due to the winds that are expected tomorrow,” Mohon said Monday afternoon. “We think we’ve got it, but you never know. That re-kindle that we had, we don’t want another one.”

He said the final firefighters were called in at 11:30 a.m. Monday but they would continue to keep an eye on the affected area through today.

Patricia McDaniel, a coordinator for the prairie chicken festival, said with the exception of changing a couple of locations for bird watching, all events for the festival will go as planned.

“The fire is just part of the natural ecology of the prairie,” McDaniel said. “The birds evolved with it and flew out of the way. Unfortunately cows and homes can’t do that. We are just grateful no one was hurt.”

McDaniel said deadlines for sign-ups for the festival have passed, so attendance for the event should also not change.