A UTV burned in the escaped prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park

A 72-hour report on the Cold Brook escaped prescribed fire disclosed that a Utility-Terrain-Vehicle tipped over and was immediately overrun by the wildfire. The report is dated April 23, 2015, ten days after the April 13 escape. We are not aware of a 24-hour report that is often released within a day or two after an incident.

Below is the Narrative from the report:

On Monday, April 13, 2015 the Cold Brook Prescribed Fire at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, escaped prescription and was declared a wildfire. During the wildfire suppression actions, a Utility-Terrain-Vehicle (UTV) with an operator and passenger, tipped over. The two individuals were not injured and escaped safely, but the UTV was immediately overrun by the wildfire and declared a total loss. The loss of the equipment classifies this incident as a “Wildland Fire Accident”.

We were not able to find any reference to a burned UTV in the press releases or the posts on InciWeb about the Cold Brook escaped fire.

This is not the first time an ATV or UTV has burned in a Wind Cave prescribed fire. During the Highland Creek prescribed fire, October 19, 2002, an ATV was destroyed.

Highland Creek ATV burnover

An ATV burned during the Highland Creek prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park, October 19, 2002. NPS photo.

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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 Jewel, and below that the response from the NPS:

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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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A day or two after receiving Senator Thune’s letter, the National Park Service issued this response:

“The National Park Service has performed thousands of prescribed burns over the past decades and successfully burned millions of acres as a way to prevent more catastrophic wildfires.  It is unfortunate that the fire at Wind Cave escaped prescribed boundaries, but no lives were lost and no structures burned. The fire was almost wholly contained within the boundaries of the park, with a small section of U.S. Forest Service property burned (20 x 20 yards). The fire did not burn onto private land.   We are dedicated to determining what happened in this particular instance and will begin the review process immediately.  We will share the outcome of that review process with the Congressional delegation, community members and other partners in order to help determine how to prevent similar occurrences in the future.”

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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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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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