Senator criticizes Park Service over escaped prescribed fire

Cold Brook Fire 4-14-2015

South end of the Cold Brook Fire, Wednesday morning, April 14, 2015. NPS photo.

South Dakota Senator John Thune sent a strongly worded letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel criticizing the National Park Service for the escaped prescribed fire, (the Cold Brook Fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota), that burned 6,420 acres of NPS land outside of the intended burn unit. The escape was entirely within the boundaries of Wind Cave National Park.

In the letter, Senator Thune makes assumptions about the cause of the escape, citing “extremely dry conditions”, and saying it “could easily have been prevented”.

A rational person would wait until an investigation or review sheds more light on what actually caused the prescribed fire to go out of control. However, recent investigations of federal fires with a negative outcome have consciously avoided determining the cause or listing conclusions. Or if they do, it is kept secret.

Below is the complete text of Senator Thune’s letter to Secretary Jewell:

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“On April 13, 2015, the National Park Service Forest Service (NPS) conducted a prescribed burn in the southern portion of Wind Cave National Park, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The prescribed burn was intended to cover 1,100 acres; however, due to the extremely dry conditions present at the prescribed burn site the fire, named the Cold Brook Fire, quickly escalated out of control consuming more than 6,500 acres of Wind Cave National Park.

In certain circumstances prescribed burns play an important role in federal lands management.  However, when a prescribed burn is the recommended management tool, intentionally setting one for any reason in tinder dry forestland or grassland when extremely dry conditions exist is entirely unwarranted and inexcusable and once started has a high likelihood of burning out of control.  Historically, carelessly set prescribed burns have resulted in unnecessary endangerment of firefighters, and have destroyed homes, personal property, and public lands.

I strongly urge a thorough and critical review of the Department’s prescribed burn policies and collaboration with local and state authorities and adjacent landowners prior to initiating any future burn.  The current prescribed burn practice of following a “prescription” checklist before starting a fire obviously is not adequately preventing prescribed burns from being set in unsafe conditions that are resulting in out-of-control wildfires.  There is an urgent need for you to do more to ensure that prescribed burns can continue to be used as a management tool without jeopardizing lives and property.

I fully expect the Department of Interior to assume complete liability for any damages caused as a result of the Cold Brook Fire.  Even though the fire was contained to Wind Cave National Park property, I have been informed that fire lines were established on private property and that the intense smoke will likely damage the lungs of young calves in the vicinity resulting in high risk of pneumonia and death loss.

Within 30 days please provide me with a detailed plan for reimbursement to all who were damaged due to this fire, including private individuals, landowners, and local, county, and state entities who suffered economic losses or contributed resources to fighting this fire.  Included in the requested plan please provide how claims will be established and processed, and the timeline for reimbursement.

The Cold Brook Fire could easily have been prevented and I strongly urge you to take whatever actions necessary to prevent future occurrences. I fully expect the Department to accept full responsibility and liability for the damages, losses, and expenses due to this fire.”

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Cold Brook prescribed fire escapes in South Dakota

(UPDATED at 6:25 a.m. MDT, April 15, 2015)

Cold Brook Fire 4-14-2015

South end of the Cold Brook Fire, Wednesday morning, April 14, 2015. NPS photo.

The incident commander of the Cold Brook fire that escaped from a prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park called it 80 percent contained at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Demobilization of firefighting resources has started for the 6,420-acre fire.

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(UPDATED at 3:10 p.m. MDT, April 15, 2015)

Wind Cave National Park provided the following information at 10 a.m. today about the Cold Brook Fire that escaped from a prescribed fire:

Firefighters working day and night shifts have been camping at Butler Park in Hot Springs. The Type 3 Incident Management Team (IMT) has retained management of this incident. The Type 2 IMT, Rocky Mountain Team Black, which was ordered as a contingency, arrived from Colorado yesterday and agrees that current leadership has a good handle on the situation.

Cold Brook Fire map 4-15-2015

The park spokesperson, Tom Farrell, said the fire is currently estimated at 6,000 acres – 1,000 acres were within the prescribed burn unit and an additional 5,000 acres have burned outside the prescribed burn unit.

A U.S. Forest Service InfraRed mapping plane, N149Z, flew over the fire Tuesday night, enabling firefighters to get an accurate map of the extent of the fire. This was the first assignment of an IR plane on an actual going fire this year. A couple of weeks ago they mapped the 2014 King Fire in California for a BAER team.

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(UPDATED at 7:30 p.m. MDT, April 14, 2015)

Tom Farrell, a spokesperson for Wind Cave National Park, now reports the Cold Creek fire has burned 5,400 acres, in addition to 1,100 acres inside the boundary of the original prescribed fire.

Firefighters will get a bit of a break with the weather on Wednesday. The forecast calls for 56 degrees, winds out of the northwest at 10 mph, close to 100 percent cloud cover, and most importantly, a 62 percent chance of rain (about 0.13 inch) in the afternoon. And as a bonus, about an inch of snow late Wednesday night.

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(UPDATED at 4:44 p.m. MDT, April 14, 2015)

Cold Brook Fire April 13, 2015

Cold Brook Fire April 13, 2015, shortly after the prescribed fire crossed Highway 385 (on the right side of the photo. This is looking northwest. Photo by Benjamin Carstens (click to enlarge)

As of 11 a.m. MDT on Tuesday the Cold Brook Fire that escaped from a prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park had burned approximately 4,500 acres outside the intended boundary of the 1,000-acre prescribed fire. Tom Farrell, spokesperson for the Park, said firefighters worked through the night to complete a fireline around 80 percent of the perimeter and on Monday hoped to finish the remaining 20 percent. As of that 11 a.m. report, the wildfire was entirely within the borders of the park, which includes the new portion that was added on the south side after the National Park Service purchased the Casey ranch.

Cold Brook Fire 2 pm April 14, 2015Cold Brook Fire 2 pm April 14, 2015

Heat detected by a satellite on the Cold Brook Fire at about 2 p.m., April 14, 2015.

The fire is being managed as a Type 3 incident, but a Type 2 Incident Management Team has been ordered.

Firefighting resources working the fire:

  • 2 South Dakota Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopters,
  • 3 Single Engine Air Tankers,
  • 2 Type 1 helicopters are on order.
  • 70 firefighters

The helicopters are filling their water buckets at Cold Brook Reservoir north of Hot Springs.

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(UPDATED at 9 a.m. MDT, April 14, 2015)

A Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team (Team Black) has been ordered for the Cold Brook Fire, which escaped from a prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park.

Below is the Spot Weather Forecast that was issued Monday at 6:09 a.m. April 13, the day of the prescribed fire. Ignition was planned for 10 a.m. You can view the entire document HERE.

spot weather forecast wind cave

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(Originally published at 8:38 p.m. MDT, April 13, 2015)

Cold Brook Fire 3 pm 4-13-2015

Map showing heat detected by a satellite on the Cold Brook Fire at about 3 pm April 13, 2015. The location of the red squares representing heat are accurate to within about a mile.

The Cold Brook #2 prescribed fire that we covered earlier on Monday, April 13. escaped at about 1 p.m. As of 6 p.m. the wildfire had burned an additional 1,000 acres all inside Wind Cave National Park, according to Tom Farrell, spokesperson for the Park.

“Several hours into the Unit 2 Cold Brook Burn this morning, an unpredicted fire whirl, or dust devil, picked up burning ash and carried material over 100 yards outside of the planned burn area into high grass”, Mr. Farrell said. “Pushed by high westerly winds, the fire quickly moved beyond containment efforts.”

The prescribed fire was intended to be 1,000 acres entirely on the west side of Highway 385 in Wind Cave National Park (see the maps above and below) but according to the heat detected by a satellite it spread to the east, crossing the highway burning toward the “Keyhole” area in the National Park boundary, shown in green on the map. The green boundary on the south side of the park became out of date in 2001 when several thousand acres of the privately owned Casey Ranch were purchased and added in that area.

Benjamin Carstens sent us the time lapse video below of the prescribed fire, telling us:

The video is comprised of 380 pictures taken over a period of 4 hours. I had it set to run longer but once the fire got out of control I felt like it was best for me to leave!

It appears that you can see the fire crossing the highway near the end of the video.

Cold Brook Fire smoke

A satellite image captured on April 13 shows heat (in red) and smoke drifting to the east from the Cold Brook Fire.

The map below shows Units 1, 2, and 3 of the Cold Brook prescribed fire project. Units 1 and 3 were burned last fall, and Unit 2 was attempted on Monday.

cold brook prescribed fire

Fire engines and hand crews have been brought in from nearby agencies to assist the 38 firefighters already on the ground; in addition, air resources have been ordered to include 2 South Dakota Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopters and a Single Engine Air Tanker. There are 70 people assigned to the fire with no estimated time of containment.

A weather station a couple of miles away from the prescribed fire recorded on Monday afternoon winds of 5 to 10 mph with gusts to 26 mph and a minimum relative humidity of 16 percent.

A Red Flag Warning takes effect at noon on Tuesday, April 14, which is expected to bring southwest winds of 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 35, and a relative humidity of 10 to 15 percent. On Monday the area was under a Fire Weather Watch.

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Wind Cave NP conducts 1,000 acre prescribed fire

prescribed fire Wind Cave NP

Cold Brook #2 prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park, April 13, 2015. Photo provided by Great Plains Fire Info.

(UPDATE at 9:40 p.m. MDT, April 13, 2015: the prescribed fire escaped and burned an additional 1,000 acres.)

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(Originally published at 2:21 p.m. MDT, April 13, 2014)

On Monday April 13 employees at Wind Cave National Park began igniting another 1,000 acres of the Cold Brook prescribed fire project in the southwest corner of the park about 5 miles north of Hot Springs, South Dakota. It was started in October, but could not be finished at that time because of weather and vegetation conditions.

prescribed fire Wind Cave NP

Map showing heat detected by a satellite which was generated by the Cold Brook #2 prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park.

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Moonshine Fire continues the fire activity in South Dakota

Moonshine FireFollowing a very slow wildfire season in 2014, the first months of this year are proving to be very different in South Dakota. Yesterday firefighters completing mopup on the Sheep Draw fire in the northwest part of the state were sent to a new fire 45 miles away, the Moonshine Fire, 15 miles east of Buffalo, SD.

On Wednesday the fire grew from 200 acres to 500 acres, via running and crowning, in about half an hour due to strong winds and difficult terrain. Reported to be 2,000 acres this morning, it is located on private and Custer Gallatin National Forest lands.

Firefighting resources on the fire today will include 25 to 30 engines, 2 dozers, 1 helicopter, three hand crews, and a Type 3 Incident Management organization.

The fire is just outside a predicted Red Flag Warning area, but firefighters on Thursday should expect 32 mph northwest winds gusting to 47 mph, 42 degrees, and a relative humidity around 40 percent,

But, you won’t see this fire or other recent incidents in SD, MT, AZ, or MS listed on today’s National Situation Report because the National Interagency Coordination Center can’t be bothered to issue daily reports this time of the year. Once a week on Friday is good enough for them, according to their standard calendar.

Moonshine Fire

The photos are from InciWeb.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged South Dakota.

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South Dakota: Sheep Draw Fire

(UPDATED at 6:10 p.m. MDT, March 31, 2015)

The size of the Sheep Draw fire in northwest South Dakota is now estimated at 13,949 acres.
  • Firefighters are calling it 70% contained
  • One non-commercial structure burned. The structure was a protective shed for a natural gas well. The gas well caught fire the first day and was put out by the first night.
  • As of 6:00 PM Monday night, two Dozers met and tied in the line around the fire (one from the north and one from the south)
  • The successful burnout operation ended at 10:00 PM last night
  • No injuries of firefighters or the public have been reported
  • This fire is burning mainly on public and private land with a small portion of Bureau of Land Management Land

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(UPDATED at 12:20 p.m. MDT, March 31, 2015)

The Rapid City Journal has an article about the Sheep Draw Fire.

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Originally published at 9:54 p.m. MDT, March 30, 2015

Sheep Draw fire

Sheep Draw Fire in northwest South Dakota.

Jim Strain’s Type 3 Incident Management Team has assumed command of the 10,000-acre Sheep Draw Fire in northwest South Dakota. Two National Guard helicopters are assisting with the fire which is burning on state and private land.

Firefighters were calling it 15 percent contained at noon on Monday.

The weather forecast for Tuesday calls for 17 mph southwest winds gusting to 28 mph, temperature of 80, and a relative humidity that will be in the teens overnight, 16 percent at dawn and rising to 40 percent by sunset.

sheep draw fire

Sheep Draw Fire in northwest South Dakota as seen from the Incident Command Post. Photo provided by Great Plains fire information.

sheep draw fire

Sheep Draw Fire South Dakota. Photo provided by Great Plains fire information.

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Structures burn in Hot Springs, SD fire

Hot Springs, SD fire

A fire in Hot Springs, South Dakota late Saturday afternoon burned two unoccupied residences and several outbuildings. Approximately one to two acres was blackened on the north end of the town, north of the Evans Plunge on the west side of School Street.

The fire stopped about 50 feet short of Howard Green’s house who told us the two residences had not been occupied for a while. At least one vehicle, a former school bus, also burned.

Firefighters were able to successfully protect several homes, even though the fire came within a few feet of the structures. The wind had been blowing in excess of 20 mph, with the temperature reaching 80 and a relative humidity in the teens.

The cause was still being investigated, but one resident told us she thought she smelled leaves or debris burning before the fire broke out.

All photos were taken by Bill Gabbert. Click on them to see larger versions.

Hot Springs, SD fire

A residence with an attached garage that had not been occupied for a while, burned. Another unoccupied residence behind this structure also was destroyed.

Hot Springs, SD fire

Hot Springs, SD fire

More photos are after the jump. Continue reading

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