Moderate weather and air tankers slow the Indian Canyon Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota

Above: The north side of the Indian Canyon Fire along the Cheyenne River late in the evening of July 17.

(UPDATED at 7 p.m. MDT July 18, 2016)

Around noon on Monday we visited the west side of the Indian Canyon Fire south of Edgemont, South Dakota. It was very quiet. Not much was going on at the airport, the incident command post, or along Highway 471. We only saw one location that was putting up much smoke and it was on the north side in some cottonwood trees near the Cheyenne River. That area probably has logs and dead trees that could smoulder for days.

Art Prints

The order for the Type 1 Incident Management Team was cancelled. The latest size estimate for the fire is 13,500 acres. At 9 a.m. today the incident management team reported there was zero containment on the fire. Then at 4:06 p.m. that increased to 60 percent. This just illustrates that containment numbers are meaningless most of the time and is the reason why we rarely regurgitate that statistic.

The six photos in the next gallery were taken around noon on Monday. Scroll down to see two other galleries. Click on a photo to see a larger version, then click on the arrows to view more.

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(UPDATED at 10:28 a.m. MDT July 18, 2016)

Monday morning the Great Plains Fire Information office reported there had been “heavy rain” on the Indian Canyon Fire in South Dakota. When I left the Edgemont area at 7:30 Sunday night a thunderstorm was moving in and light rain was falling. Two rain gauges that are near the fire but not within the perimeter recorded 0.03″ and 0.07″ overnight.

The heat-sensing satellite did not detect any large heat sources Sunday night on the fire. That does not mean it is out. The sensors, about 200 miles overhead, can only “see” large concentrations of heat. And the grass, which comprises most of the vegetation in the fire area, can burn and then cool before the next satellite overpass.

The behavior of the fire on Sunday was affected by the moderate weather conditions — temperature around 80, relative humidity in the 30’s, and an 8 mph east wind. The forecast for the fire area on Monday predicts 96 degrees, southwest winds of 14 to 18 gusting in the mid-20’s, and 30 percent relative humidity. These conditions could dry much of the Sunday night rainfall.

Another factor slowing the fire was the use of air tankers, helping to keep the fire out of Edgemont. In addition to a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, seven other air tankers were used on the fire Sunday — four Single Engine Air Tankers and three large air tankers, T-02 and T41 (both BAe-146’s), and T-45 (a P2V). In addition, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters worked on the fire Sunday.

The photos in the gallery below were shot around 7 p.m. MDT Sunday night. To see larger versions, click on one, then click the arrows to see more.

This was the first time that a Very Large Air Tanker has dropped retardant in the state of South Dakota. It carries 11,600 gallons, far more than any other air tanker currently certified in North America. The other Large Air Tankers hold between 2,000 and 4,500 gallons. Global Supertanker has a 747 Very Large Air Tanker with a 19,600-gallon capacity working its way through the FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board approval process.

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(UPDATED at 9:07 p.m. MDT July 17, 2016)

DC-10 air tanker Indian Canyon Fire
Air Tanker 912, a DC-10, drops retardant on the north side of the Indian Canyon Fire at 7:15 p.m. MDT July 17, 2016. The objective was for the retardant to serve as a contingency fire line to help protect the town of Edgemont. This was the first retardant drop by a Very Large Air Tanker in the state of South Dakota.

The spread of the Indian Canyon Fire slowed significantly late Sunday afternoon. At 7 p.m. we were observing the fire from a high point east of Edgemont, South Dakota and about a mile north of the blaze. Firefighters were finishing burnout operations in two areas — in one case tying in the fire perimeter to the Cheyenne River. Other than the burnouts, there was not much smoke being produced. By the time I left the area a thunderstorm was moving in and a very light rain was falling.

Fire officials are estimating the size at about 12,000 acres. Structures are threatened in the Edgemont area. At about 9 p.m. Fall River County announced that the evacuation of the Cottonwood area was lifted.

Air Tanker 912, a huge wide-body DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT), made a drop on the north side at 7:15 p.m. flying west to east. Then he made a U-turn and three minutes later extended the retardant line he had just made, flying east to west. It’s a little unusual seeing drops within minutes of each other made in opposite directions. There was a breeze blowing out of the east at around six to ten mph, but the terrain was not complex, and was fairly flat.

I’ll have to do some research to find out when the last time was that a VLAT made a drop in South Dakota. (UPDATE at 9:35 p.m. on Sunday: Jim Strain, Chief Fire Management Officer for South Dakota, did some checking and the consensus is this was the first time a VLAT has made a drop in the state of South Dakota. But it’s not the first time one has been in the state.)

Seven other air tankers were used on the fire Sunday — four Single Engine Air Tankers and three large air tankers, T-02 and T41 (both BAe-146’s), and T-45 (a P2V). In addition, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters worked on the fire Sunday.

Photography Prints

We confirmed that a Type 1 Incident Management Team is en route. The Incident Commander will be Todd Pechota, Fire Management Officer of the Black Hills National Forest.

The official transition of the team will begin at the inbriefing. Sometime after that, usually 6 to 18 hours later, they will actually assume command of the fire. The Incident Command Post has been at the County Fairgrounds in Edgemont.

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(UPDATED at 5:57 p.m. MDT July 17, 2016)

Map Indian Canyon Fire
The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite over the Indian Canyon Fire at 2:10 p.m. MDT July 17, 2016. Much of the fire area that burned in grass, cooled before the satellite overpass. Therefore, the fire is larger than indicated here. Click to enlarge.

The Indian Canyon fire just south of Edgemont, South Dakota is proving to be more difficult to suppress than the typical wildfire on the fringe of the foothills of the Black Hills in South Dakota. It is burning primarily in grass and ranch land but the patches of timber in the drainages and on the ridges increase the resistance of control. The local ranchers with 200-gallon water tanks on their flatbed trucks can be fairly effective on the prairie as long as they utilize smart tactics and be sure that they hold the portions of the fire that they have knocked down. But containing the edges of the fire that are in the pines requires different tactics, more water, and additional personnel and equipment.

Today it spread approximately three miles farther west and crossed 471, the highway between Edgemont and Provo. Our very, very rough and unofficial calculations show that it had burned more than 10,000 acres as of 2:10 p.m. on Sunday.

Indian Canyon Fire at 7:55 p.m. MDT July 16, 2016
Indian Canyon Fire at 7:55 p.m. MDT July 16, 2016

Fall River County announced that a mandatory evacuation has been ordered for some portions of Edgemont and pre-evacuation for the rest of the town. Check their Facebook page for evacuation details.

The Fall River County Facebook page reported late this afternoon that a Type 1 Incident Management Team has been ordered.

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(Published at 12:14 a.m. MDT July 17, 2016; updated with an additional map at 8:40 a.m. MDT July 17, 2016)

The Indian Canyon Fire has burned approximately 6,000 acres in the southern Black Hills six miles southeast of Edgemont, South Dakota. It was reported at 5 p.m. on July 16 soon after thunderstorms moved through the area. The fire is burning on both sides of Indian Canyon road on private ranching land, some of which had to be evacuated. The fuels are mostly grass with timber on the ridges.

In the gallery below, click on a photo to enlarge it, then click on the arrows to see more.

map Indian Canyon Fire
The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite over the Indian Canyon Fire at 2:50 a.m. MDT July 17, 2016. Most of the fire area was grass, which cooled before the satellite overpass and was not detected. Therefore, the fire is larger than indicated here. The darker areas are timber which retained heat for a longer period of time. Click to enlarge.

The Rock Fire, another fire 16 miles further south just across the state line in Nebraska that was reported at 6:15 p.m. MDT on Sunday, burned approximately 309 acres before the spread was stopped.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

11 thoughts on “Moderate weather and air tankers slow the Indian Canyon Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota”

  1. I was driving from Custer, SD, to Newcastle, WY, last night and the flames and the orange glow at the base of the smoke columns made both the Indian Canyon and Rock Canyon fires clearly visible from US 16 just west of Hell Canyon, approximately 25 miles NNE of the fire.

    The vast opening in the timber that allowed the view was created by the Jasper Fire which started August 24, 2000 and burned well into September consuming 83,000 acres within fire boundaries totaling over 110,000 acres.

    The fact that we have not experienced another fire of that scale in the Black Hills area is a testament to the courage and dedication of all fire fighters. Thank YOU!

      1. Wow! Great work, Bill. The capacity of the DC-10s is amazing. Possible that this is the first time a DC10 has ever been assigned in SD?

  2. After changing directions (east to west) with a tail wind the drop would travel with the wind and maybe treat an additional 500 feet of contingency line compared (same gallons) to traveling into the wind? Light rain will keep the retardant hydrated for many additional hours as will as high humidity (>30%) which has somewhat the same effect.

  3. The photos are great. Makes me feel that I had a part in being there. Sometimes you hear its only a grass fire. In addition to loosing range feeding for a couple of years check out the burnt fence posts. Contacted my relatives in central Nevada (big time ranchers) and asked the going rate for labor and materials to replace the fence lines, $3.00 per foot.

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