Highland Fire threatening Black Hills homesA new fire between Custer and Newcastle, Wyo., was threatening dozens of homes Sunday evening. The Highlands Fire started around 1 p.m. Sunday.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
A new fire between Custer and Newcastle, Wyo., was threatening dozens of homes Sunday evening.
The Highlands Fire started around 1 p.m. Sunday, according to a fire information press release. By early Sunday evening, Highway 16 was closed between milepost 4 and 5 for more than three hours because of the blaze. The highway later re-opened, but the public was asked to avoid the area.
The Highlands Fire is burning in grass and timber in the vicinity of several homes, according to a release. Sixty of these structures are being threatened by current fire activity.
It’s the fourth fire in western South Dakota in a week.
The flames are the major problem in the fires, but there other unpleasant issues for the crews on the scenes. The hot, dry spring and early summer have created “flashy fuels” that are quick to ignite.
Add in steep terrain and rattlesnakes and the job is both dangerous and tricky. The extreme conditions, with highs in the upper 90s, add to the misery.
Federal, state, and local agencies were at the scene of the fire and more were responding. Heavy air tankers were supporting the effort and a Type 3 team was ordered to manage the fire. Three engines were on scene with more ordered.
The fire was 75 acres and growing Sunday and the fire behavior was considered “very active,” according to the release.
Michael Salisbury, of the Mystic Ranger District near Rapid City, was serving as an information officer. Salisbury said it was a hectic time.
“We are keeping jumping,” he said. “The conditions are just right for this. Supposed to get a lot hotter, and we’re supposed to get more dry lightning. That usually means more activity.”
He said none of the firefighters have been injured and all have been given plenty of water and other fluids to combat the conditions. It hit 97 at his camp Sunday, he said.
“We’ve been keeping a very close eye on things,” Salisbury said. “I think I’ve drank 2 gallons of water today and I’m not even fighting fires.”
There are three other fires still being worked on in western South Dakota.
n The White Draw Fire is located approximately five miles northeast of Edgemont, burning primarily on Forest Service lands in a mix of grasslands and timber.
Officials say crews started work early Sunday morning ahead of expected unfavorable winds and hot temperatures. Rains on Saturday briefly slowed the advance of the fire.
Active fire behavior began around noon Sunday on the White Draw Fire, producing heavy smoke and significant fire growth when light grassy fuels carried the fire to the northwest. The weather has been hot and dry with winds out of the southeast all day except in the late afternoon when a thunder cell passed, producing lightning on the west side of the fire. As the cell passed, the winds changed to southwesterly.
More than 180 personnel are assigned to the fire.
Four helicopters provided water drops throughout the day to temporarily cool hot spots so firefighters could more safely and effectively attack the fire. A single engine air tanker (SEAT) and U.S. Air Force MobileAir Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) C-130 Hercules assisted firefighters with retardant drops.
Fire operations started an hour earlier Sunday morning to take advantage of more favorable and efficient working conditions ahead of expected unfavorable winds and temperatures this afternoon.
Crews will continue to hold and improve fire lines established Saturday in attempts to minimize fire growth. Crews are also concentrating on structure protection to the northwest of the fire perimeter in anticipation of expected winds that could press the fire in that direction.
Residents of five homes near Edgemont were given voluntary evacuation notices Saturday.
n The Dakota Fire, located 15 miles from Rapid City on National Forest land on Sheridan Lake, was 100 percent contained as of Saturday but still posed problems.
Fire crews will continue to patrol and mop up the fire, and will work to rehabilitate areas impacted by suppression efforts. Smoke may not be visible today but the public should still stay out of the fire area.
Travelers on Highway 16, Highway 385 and Sheridan Lake Road were advised to be very careful and watch for fire vehicles on the roads. The Dakota Point road is still closed to the public and staff members at the road junction with Sheridan Lake Road enforced closure.
However, Sheridan Lake remains open for boating. People should stay away from the burned area as crews continue to mop up the fire. The South Boat Launch is open and the South Sheridan Lake Campground is open.
The 348-acre fire started on Tuesday in steep, rugged terrain. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
n The 135-acre Crow Peak Fire near Spearfish was contained Friday night but it was still a hot area that required attention.
Incident commander Brian Daunt said occasional smoke may still be visible for the next several weeks while crews continue to extinguish burning stumps and ground litter on the interior of the fire.
The total cost of that fire through Friday was estimated at $950,000.
Fire officials said people need to realize the fires are impacting a small portion of the area and many recreational areas in the Black Hills are still open.
With the Fourth of July on Wednesday, the Forest Service reminded the public that it is against both state law and Forest Service regulations to shoot fireworks within the Black Hills National Forest Fire Protection Boundary.
That boundary includes I-90 on the north, U.S. Highway 16b, state Highway 79, and U.S. Highway 18 on the east, the Cheyenne River on the south, and the Wyoming boarder on the west.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.