Todd Pechota receives FMO of the year award

The U.S. Forest Service announced that Todd Pechota, Forest Fire Management Officer (FMO) on the Black Hills National Forest, is the recipient of the 2015 National Forest FMO of the Year award. He received the honor during a recent ceremony at the U.S. Forest Service Regional Office in Colorado.

The Black Hills National forest is in the Black Hills of western South Dakota and northeast Wyoming.

Todd Pechota
Todd Pechota, in a screen grab from a video as he was interviewed about the Whaley prescribed fire north of Hill City, SD, January 13, 2016.

The award recognizes the most outstanding fire manager in the U.S. Forest Service each year.  It has a long and prestigious history of honoring fire managers who have exhibited exceptional leadership in Forest Fire Management leadership as a Forest Fire Management Officer.

“Todd is an exceptional leader in wildland fire,” said Craig Bobzien, Black Hills National Forest Supervisor.  “This award is a testament to the work he has accomplished. It underscores the relationships he has developed locally and across the nation, and the special care that he has shown for all those that have worked with him.”

In addition to his position as FMO on the Black Hills National Forest, Pechota serves as the Incident Commander for the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team and is past Chairman of the Great Plains Regional Dispatch Board of Directors.

Time lapse photography of the Storm Hill Fire

The Storm Hill Fire is on the east side of Hill City, South Dakota.

Benjamin Carstens’ photos from the Storm Hill Fire

(UPDATED April 25 to include Mr. Carstens time lapse photography.)

Benjamin Carstens took these excellent photos of the Storm Hill Fire that at last report had burned approximately 100 acres just east of Hill City, South Dakota.

Here is a link to our main article about the Storm Hill Fire.

Storm Hill Fire

Storm Hill Fire

Storm Hill fire near Hill City, South Dakota

Above: Storm Hill Fire near Hill City, South Dakota. Photo at 4:40 p.m. April 23, 2016 by Jim Burk, SDWF.

(UPDATED at 9:22 a.m. MDT April 25, 2016)

The Storm Hill Fire just east of Hill City, South Dakota has had a fireline around it since early Sunday morning, and as of Monday morning firefighters have “completed a 30-foot security patrol line around all of the fire”. This easily meets the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s definition of “contained”. However, the incident commander is calling it “75 percent contained”. We generally ignore the containment numbers publicized by incident commanders for this reason.

More accurate mapping determined that the fire has burned 193 acres of public and private lands.


(Originally published at 7:05 a.m. MDT April 24, 2016)

The Storm Hill Fire has burned approximately 100 acres near the sawmill east of Hill City, South Dakota. After it was reported Saturday afternoon at 2:05 it burned onto private land and the Black Hills National Forest.

Storm Hill Fire
Storm Hill Fire April 23, 2016. Photo by Jim Burk, SDWF.

Firefighters completed a burnout operation at 12:30 Sunday morning in fuels that included bug-killed trees. At that time firelines had been established on the east, south and northwest sides.

By Sunday morning at 6:30 a line had been constructed around the entire fire but the Incident Commander was only calling it 50 percent contained.

Highway 385, a primary highway in the Black Hills, was closed, but reopened at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Storm Hill Fire
Storm Hill Fire April 23 by Jim Burk, SDWF.
Storm Hill Fire
Storm Hill Fire near MItchell Lake just off Highway 385 at 11:15 p.m. April 23.  Photo by Rob Lehmann, SDWF.

Ben Carstens sent us some excellent photos of the fire.

Some firefighters traveled long distances to help fight the Cold Fire

Above: Firefighters from the Brookings and Colman fire departments in eastern South Dakota patrolled a fire line during burning out operations on the Cold Fire, April 3, 2016.

Some of the firefighters working on the 1,896-acre Cold Fire 8 miles south of Custer, South Dakota traveled long distances to help out the locals.

Several fire engines from Sioux Falls, Brookings, and Colman in the extreme eastern part of South Dakota drove more than 400 miles. A hand crew came all the way from Oregon.

Ironically, the closest engine to the fire, at the Wind Cave National Park headquarters four miles away, sat in its garage. The park’s Assistant Fire Management Officer Al Stover said a confluence of factors resulted in none of their firefighters being able to help put out the fire that burned 316 acres inside the park. Their engine boss was at a training class and their seven-person Wildland Fire Module was in Kansas assisting with a prescribed fire. However the park did have at least two personnel at the fire, staffing a road block and serving as an Agency Administrator’s representative. And, we saw the Park Superintendent at the fire Saturday evening.

There are seven National Parks and Monuments in the greater Black Hills area. The firefighters (full time and collateral-duty) and engines in those parks are all coordinated by the Northern Great Plains National Park Service Fire Management Office. It is unfortunate they were not able to at least put together from those seven parks, half a dozen firefighters and a crew boss to lend a hand.


(UPDATE at 10:33 a.m. MDT, April 7, 2016)

I wrote a comment below the article on April 6. Here is a copy:

“The Park Service is regressing to their roots of 30 years ago. In the early and mid-1980s they only had a skeleton of a fire management organization. Then 1988 happened. When much of Yellowstone National Park burned it got the attention not only of the highest levels of NPS management, but Congress as well. More money flowed into the fire organization. New positions were created.

In recent years Congress has cut the budget for NPS Fire, and many of those new, and needed, positions have been abolished or are not filled if a person leaves. These things run in cycles. When the next 1988 Yellowstone happens, things might turn around. For a while. Until the Administration and Congress lose interest again.

When politicians think of the NPS, they think of beautiful parks and Ranger-led interpretive walks. On the other hand, when the Forest Service is mentioned, they remember the last time USFS Chief Tom Tidwell sat in front of them in a hearing, just months before, when he begged and pleaded for more money for USFS fire management which consumes about half of the USFS funds.

I can’t help but wonder if funding for Department of Interior fire would be different if all federal wildland fire management were in ONE agency. That way it would be more difficult to ignore four of the five organizations.”

South Dakota: Draw Fire

You know that moment when you open your truck door and the wind grabs it and almost rips it off the vehicle? I experienced that moment late this afternoon when I arrived at a new fire in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Draw Fire.

It was reported at 4:55 p.m. today by the Fire Management Officer of Wind Cave National Park, Eric Allen. He was on the south side of the park and told the dispatcher he saw a light grey smoke on the north side of the park.

Draw Fire
Draw Fire. Photo by Jared Hohn for the U.S. Forest Service.

If the fire that started Saturday three miles farther north had not been named the Cold Fire (after Cold Springs School) this new fire SHOULD have earned that name. Thanks to a cold front, it was 38 degrees late this afternoon, the wind chill was 28, there was a steady 25 mph wind with stronger gusts, and it was spitting rain. I was glad I was only visiting and could leave as soon as my camera trigger finger became numb.

Since it was cold, the humidity was high, and there were a few drops of precipitation in the air, even WITH the very strong wind the fire did not spread as quickly as it would have in the morning before the cold front came in, or in the previous three days when it was drier.

It burned about 10 to 20 acres.

The fire may not have been reported right away because the 1,900-acre Cold Fire was just up the road. If Eric had not seen the smoke it might have gotten twice as large before anyone else called it in.

map draw cold fires
Map of the Draw and Cold Fires.

When I left at about 6:45 p.m. the Incident Commander said there was a dozer line around 98 percent of the fire.