Thursday, April 28, 2016
|Photo courtesy of South Dakota Wildland Fire Division|
Even though wisps of smoke still trailed from Storm Hill, the fire was officially declared 100 percent contained last Tuesday — marking the end of a blaze that scorched over 190 acres and lasted for two stressful days.
The Storm Hill Fire was reported at 2 p.m. on April 23 on the hillside behind Mitchell Lake along Hwy. 16/385 and fire departments and federal agencies from around the Black Hills jumped into action, preventing the blaze from damaging any structures or causing any injuries.
By the time the fire was stifled to ashes, over 100 personnel from the U.S. Forest Service, the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division (SDWFD), the U.S. Park Service and the Hill City, Keystone, Rapid City, Sturgis, Spearfish, Interior, Silver City, Custer, Wall, Johnson Siding and Whispering Pines fire departments had helped control the blaze.
Storm Hill’s steep cone shape made for dangerous ground for firefighters.
“It’s just a steep, nasty hillside,” said night incident commander Jeremy Dalman, assistant fire management officer for the Mystic Ranger District.
This topographical challenge was made all the worse by the heavy concentration of mountain pine beetle-killed trees which provided plenty of fuel for the fire, precarious footing with all the downed trees and a high potential for dead trees, known as snags, to fall at any moment.
“Storm Hill is probably more than 50 percent dead, pine beetle kill,” said incident commander Ray Bubb, division chief with SDWFD.
“Access was the issue that drove this entire fire and how it was fought,” said Bubb.
When approximately 50 acres had burned, it was decided by the agencies in charge that fire fighters would conduct a burnout. This would allow the fire to work down to established fire control lines on easier terrain for the fire-fighting procedures.
“There was no reason to kill a human being or risk injuring firefighters for a few snags,” explained Bubb.
This burnout was so impressive Saturday night that Hwy. 16/385 was closed, with traffic controlled by the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department. This was done to minimize the risk of collisions, with heavy fire engine traffic and drivers who could be distracted by the fire.
The fire has been determined to be human caused and to have started on private property, but the cause is still under investigation.
Though Storm Hill is still smoking and may continue to for several more days, Bubb and the other firefighters are confident the fire is vanquished and not even a strong wind could revive it.
As the fire loomed across the highway, local resident Lou Ann Delaney packed some photos, clothes, her fire safe with important documents and the family pets.
“My heart was in my throat and we were getting the camper ready. We were ready to leave if we had to,” added Delaney.
“I’m amazed and grateful to our firefighters for how they handled this fire,” commented Delaney, “They controlled it rather quickly.”