Wildfire Danger Returns to South Dakota

September 2, 2008

A wet spring that doused the Black Hills fire danger early in summer produced a good stand of grass that is drying out, raising the risk in the second half of the fire season.

There have been dozens of small fires — many caused by lightning — but crews had them quickly under control this summer.

“There has been one major fire in the Black Hills, the Freeland Will Fire just southwest of Custer about 10 miles or so. That was caused by man, and is still under investigation,” said Frank Carroll, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service in Custer.

The fire in late May burned about 170 acres.

“Our main concern right now is grass,” said Beth Hermanson, with the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division. “We’ve had so much moisture and now we have some very tall grass. The cheat grass is starting to dry out and our native grasses are starting to cure as well, and when the moisture leaves the fuels like that you can get a very hot fire.”

Carroll and Hermanson said people need to be careful with cigarettes or open fires and avoid driving in tall grass where a hot muffler can start a fire.

“Cheat grass is like kerosene or gasoline. When it cures like it is, it literally explodes into a fire. That’s why in October we get nervous during antelope season,” said Hermanson.

Hermanson said there were only four days in July when the fire danger reached the high category, and it was late August before the index reached that level again. She said two air tankers and seasonal fire fighters remain on standby.

“We have been very fortunate this year and we’ve had so much precipitation and it’s been so timely. But on the other hand the Black Hills is full of surprises,” Carroll said.

He said the agency handled about 75 small blazes this summer.

Source: Black Hills Pioneer.

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