Vehicle fire south of Wind Cave National Park, 1:15 p.m. MT, September 26, 2012. Wildfire Today photo by Bill Gabbert
Wednesday afternoon an older couple was driving their Dodge pickup truck on US Highway 385 just south of Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota when they smelled smoke. The driver told us that it smelled like a forest fire but they could not see any nearby — until the interior of the truck filled with smoke. They pulled over and called 911 on their cell phone and then stood on the side of the road several hundred feet away with their two dogs as the truck burned, waiting for what they thought was the inevitable explosion — just like they have seen so many times in movies.
When they received the dispatch to the fire the engine crew from Wind Cave was only about four miles away doing some training. Already wearing their Nomex shirts, they responded in Engine 628 (the white truck) and saw that the burning vehicle was on the side of the road parked at a driveway, which provided more clearance than if the truck had stopped anywhere else. With the strong wind that was blowing one burning ember in the grass alongside the road and the fire would have been over the hill quickly, The National Park Service engine crew quickly knocked down the fire, keeping it from spreading into the vegetation, and then turned it over to firefighters from Hot Springs when they arrived from their station about 6 miles away.
Congratulations to the Wind Cave crew for preventing what could have become a large vegetation fire. The weather at the Elk Mountain weather station a few miles away recorded a 10 mph wind with gusts up to 22 at the time of the fire. Darren Clabo, a fire meteorologist for the state of South Dakota, sent out this tweet earlier today:
Extreme Fire Danger for many West River counties today. Gusty southeast winds with RHs falling below 20%
The occupants told us that after they pulled over they saw pine cones dropping out of the engine compartment as the truck burned. They figured that while they had been camping, a squirrel had designated their truck as a storage facility for its’ winter food supply. The pine cones must have been close to an exhaust pipe which caused them to ignite.
After I downloaded these images I noticed some pine cones in the picture above. Below is an enlargement of the area below the truck’s engine, with arrows pointing out some of the pine cones that were still recognizable.
Pine cones at vehicle fire south of Wind Cave National Park (click to enlarge)
We are adding this to our articles that are tagged “animal arson” – the 10th in the series — so far.