(UPDATED at 9:06 a.m. MT, October 19, 2012.)
The very strong winds that accompanied a cold front moving across the northern great plains on Wednesday and Thursday fanned at least 15 fires into life over the last 36 hours in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Most of them were successfully suppressed by very busy firefighters working without the benefit of aircraft which were grounded by the winds.
Two fires, both of them near Custer are still active as this is written at 7:10 a.m. on Friday.
The Fork fire is 5 miles west of Custer and about 1.5 miles north of Highway 16 near the intersection of Renegade Pass and North Pole roads. The fire has burned 353 acres on both private and Black Hills National Forest lands and is reported to be 50 percent contained. A Type 3 Incident Management Team led by Incident Commander Matt Spring is suppressing the fire. It is human-caused but is under investigation.
Evacuations that were in place for 15 residences in the Renegade subdivison near Renegade Pass Road have been lifted. The North Pole road that was closed has reopened. One outbuilding burned in the fire.
A weather station 11 miles south of the fire recorded at 1:55 p.m. on Thursday sustained winds of 26 mph gusting to 48 mph which contributed greatly to the rapid spread of the fire. The weather forecast for Friday will be encouraging to firefighters. The winds will be much more sedate — northwest at 4 to 7 mph becoming west 6 to 10 in the afternoon. The temperature will be 58, the relative humidity will bottom out at 23 percent, and the cloud cover will be 25 increasing to 40 percent.
The Glenerin fire is approximately 3 miles east of Custer, south of Highway 16 and Stockade Lake. The estimated size on Thursday was 10 to 30 acres and it was 5 percent contained. About 20 residents were notified to be ready to evacuate if the fire continued to spread.
The fire is burning on both private and National Forest lands. The cause is under investigation.