Cold Brook prescribed fire escapes in South Dakota (updated with post-fire photos)

(UPDATED at 4 p.m. April 19, 2015)

Cold Brook Fire

Highway 385, which can be seen in the distance, was supposed to be the boundary of the prescribed fire. Only the land on the far side of the highway was planned to burn.

After being out of town for a while, today we saw the Cold Brook escaped prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota for the first time. Our initial impression was that a very small percentage of the Ponderosa Pine trees lost their canopies to the fire; the mortality was very low. This is largely due to a series of prescribed fires that were conducted in the area about 13 to 16 years ago. Those burns eliminated some trees and “raised the canopy” on many; that is, some of the lower limbs were burned off reducing the ladder fuels that could later carry a fire into the crowns.

Approximately 5,420 acres burned outside the prescribed fire unit, all within the National Park.

The fire would have burned private land outside the park if the Casey Ranch south of the park had not been added a few years ago. The fire burned quite a few acres east of Highway 385 and south of the former park boundary.

In that area, a residence that remains on private land had the fire burn right up to their back yard, as you can see in the photo below.

Cold Brook Fire

The fire burned up to the back yard of a private residence near Highway 385. A blackened area can be seen on the left side of the photo.

When the fire escaped, it ran to the east for about four to five miles.

Cold Brook Fire

Looking east from the planned burn area to Highway 385 which did not serve as an adequate fire line under the conditions that day.

All of these photos in today’s update were taken by Bill Gabbert. Click on them to see larger versions.

Cold Brook Fire

Cold Brook Fire

The north end of the fire, east of Highway 385.

Cold Brook Fire


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Research links wildfire smoke with cardiac arrest in men

smoke prescribed fire firefighter

A firefighter is enveloped in smoke while working on a prescribed fire in Hot Springs, SD, March 30, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Researchers in Australia have found a link between smoke from bushfires and cardiac arrest in men over 35 in the population of metropolitan Melbourne. We would like to see a study done of wildland firefighters who breathe far more smoke than the residents of Melbourne.

Below is an excerpt from

Men over 35 have an increased risk of cardiac arrest if exposed to poor quality air from bushfires, a new study has found.

Monash University research using data from Ambulance Victoria’s Victorian Ambulance Cardiac Arrest Registry (VACAR) investigated the links between out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and bushfire smoke exposure in metropolitan Melbourne during the 2006-07 bushfire season.

The study, published in the latest edition of Environmental Health Perspectives, found an association between exposure to forest fire smoke and an increase in the rate of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests.

Monash University researchers led by Dr Martine Dennekamp, Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, saw greater increases in the number of men over 35 years old experiencing cardiac arrests but did not see a significant association in women over 35.

Dr Dennekamp said exposure to smoke from forest fires was a significant health issue in many countries, and it was important to raise community awareness.

“The problem is likely to get worse in the future, as we can expect fires to become both more frequent and more severe,” Dr Dennekamp said.

The state and federal governments not only employ the most wildland firefighters in the United States, but they would also be the ones to fund research like this. One would think they would have a disincentive to discover environmental conditions on the job that adversely affect the health of their employees. Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to know the answer, right? Mitigating the hazard of smoke for firefighters on a wildfire would be extremely difficult. But the least these employers should do is determine exactly the nature and scope of the hazard, and support their employees, and former employees, who suffer from life threatening diseases caused by their jobs.

There have been some papers written and some research has been completed on wildfire smoke, but what is needed is a thorough long term study on wildland firefighters conducted by epidemiologists. Something we first called for in 2010.

A very well known and respected Hotshot Superintendent advised me to frequently complete a CA-1 accident form after breathing lots of smoke on a fire. If you don’t, perhaps 10, 20, or 30 years later it might be hard to convince your employer that one or more of the following conditions were caused by your job: leukemia, testicular cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, bladder cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer, and non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma. All of those are recognized by the British Columbia government as an occupational hazard for firefighters; they are called presumptive cancers. But the United States government does not.

Other articles on Wildfire Today tagged cancer and firefighter health.


Tonight’s sunset photo

Wind Cave sunset photo by Bill Gabbert

As the sun was setting tonight over Wind Cave National Park the clouds were at first too thick for any colors to break through. But thankfully 10 minutes after the official sunset time the clouds thinned producing some beautiful colors —  which only lasted five minutes.

Photo by ©Bill Gabbert, with a Sony A7ii, f/8, 1/80 sec., ISO 250, exposure bias -2.3 step, focal length 63 mm.


Norbeck prescribed fire — three months later

With the temperature approaching 70 degrees Tuesday afternoon I could not resist the urge to blow some cobwebs off my motorcycle. I cruised into Wind Cave National Park and took some photos with portions of the Norbeck Prescribed Fire in the background. The first and third photos were taken last fall on October 20 and 21, while the second and fourth were shot today, January 27, 2015.

The first and second, and the third and fourth photos show approximately the same areas.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Norbeck Prescribed Fire, October 21, 2014, across the highway from the lookout tower in Wind Cave National Park. This location is similar to the one in the photo below.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Site of the Norbeck Prescribed Fire, January 27, 2015, across the highway from the lookout tower in Wind Cave National Park. This location is similar to the one in the photo above.

Norbeck prescribed fire

Norbeck Prescribed Fire, October 20, 2014, near the boundary between Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. This location is similar to the one in the photo below.

Bike and burned hill near St Pk bdy

Site of the Norbeck Prescribed Fire, January 27, 2015 near the boundary between Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. This location is similar to the one in the photo above.

Other articles on Wildfire Today tagged Norbeck Prescribed Fire.

All photos were taken by Bill Gabbert.