South Dakota: White Draw fire

Helicopter dropping on White Draw Fire
Helicopter dropping on White Draw Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert/Wildfire Today

UPDATE at noon, June 30, 2012: we posted many more pictures of the fire HERE as well as additional information about the fire.


The White Draw fire started at about 4 p.m. Friday afternoon northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota after a motor home driving up the grade on Highway 18 toward Hot Springs caught on fire. I cruised out there and shot some photos. Here’s one, and I’ll post more over the next few days.

There were quite a few engines working on the fire from the local communities, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, the State of South Dakota, and the National Park Service. There were no large air tankers on the fire at any time as far as I know, but there was one Single Engine Air Tanker, plus two Type 3 Helicopters and a Blackhawk. When I left the fire at about 9:45 p.m. I could not see the entire fire, but I’m guessing it had burned hundreds of acres.

Fall River prescribed fire, revisited

On March 17 we photographed and shot video of a prescribed fire in the channel of the Fall River in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Today we hiked down to the river to see what it looks like six weeks later. The first photo was taken of the same area as the next two but from a different vantage point. The second was taken a few minutes after the burn, and the third was taken today.

Fall River Prescribed fire, during

Fall River Prescribed fire, during

Fall River Prescribed fire, after

The firefighters with the Hot Springs Fire Department did very well!

Fund raiser for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation

WFFThe family that lost their son, Trampus Haskvitz, to a wildfire last year was so impressed with the support they received from the Wildland Firefighter Foundation that they are helping to organize a fund raiser for the organization. Here is a message from them and others asking for us to contribute.


Dear Firefighters,

On August 11, 2011, South Dakota lost a brave Wildland Firefighter in the Coal Canyon Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota.

Trampus S. Haskvitz was a recent graduate of Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota and was in his fifth year of firefighting based out of Hot Springs, SD with the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division as a FFT I ICT 5. He was an Engine Boss when he tragically lost his life saving others from a wildfire.

In his memory and to honor all Wildland Firefighters, his family is planning the First Annual Trampus S. Haskvitz Golf Tournament in Hot Springs, South Dakota on June 2, 2012 to raise funds for the Wildland Firefighters Foundation (WFF) based in Boise, Idaho. All proceeds collected as a result of the golf tournament will go to the WFF.

To make the golf tournament as meaningful and successful for the Wildland Firefighters Foundation as possible, Trampus’ family is respectfully soliciting donations from the fire community. Any merchandise, gift certificates or cash will be gratefully accepted. Cash donations can be sent directly to the 1st Annual Trampus S Haskvitz Golf Tournament at Wells Fargo Bank in Hot Springs SD. Questions or concerns about merchandise and gift certificates, please contact Jim Stevens Chief of the Hot Springs VFD.

The mission of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation is to honor past, present, and future Wildland firefighters. The Foundation helps maintain and grow the national monument established for those who have lost their lives in Wildland fires and to operate a financial fund providing assistance to the families of fallen and injured Wildland firefighters. In addition, the Foundation partners with private and interagency organizations to educate the public about Wildland fires and to promote excellence and safety in firefighting.

Trampus’ family and his firefighting colleagues in Hot Springs would like to thank you in advance for any support you can provide this annual event. It promises to be an exciting and fun weekend in the Black Hills of South Dakota and you can make a very positive impact on the Wildland Firefighting Community with your support.

Compassion Spreads Like Wildfire.


Trampus’ Family: Don, LuJean, Benjamin, Betsy and John Haskvitz

Jim Strain, Assistant Chief of Operations, South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire Suppression; Office Phone: 605-393-8114, for any questions or concerns.

Jim Stevens, Chief of the Hot Springs VFD; Cell #: 605-890-2124, for any questions concerning merchandise and gift certificates.

P.S. We will be putting the information to register for the 1st Annual Trampus S Haskvitz Golf Tournament on the internet soon and will inform you of the domain in the near future.

SEAT at Hot Springs, SD

Air Tanker 466 at Hot Springs
Pilot Jim Fournier with Air Tanker 466. Photo by Bill Gabbert

With South Dakota and other Northern Great Plains States suddenly coming into wildfire season a single engine air tanker has been positioned at the airport at Hot Springs, South Dakota. An air attack platform, a King Air, is also on standby at Rapid City and a Blackhawk helicopter is available from the National Guard base at the Rapid City airport.

We spent a few minutes at the Hot Springs air attack base today and talked with Base Manager Winston Cadotte and pilot Jim Fournier. Tanker 466 is under contract from New Frontier Aviation and is operated by Taylor Aviation.

UPDATE: earlier we identified the aircraft as an Air Tractor 802, but Scott in a comment said it is a Dromader, and we now believe he is right. It appears to be a M-18T Dromader. Sorry for the confusion.

Air Tanker at Hot Springs
Air Tanker 466 at Hot Springs. Photo by Bill Gabbert


Jay Esperance named Director of Wildland Fire Suppression in SD

Jay Esperance
Jay Esperance, while on assignment as Operations Section Chief in Australia, March, 2009. Photo credit: Jim Raudenbush

Jay Esperance has been selected as the new Director of the Division of Wildland Fire Suppression in South Dakota. Mr. Esperance replaces Joe Lowe who retired January 23.

Mr. Esperance will begin his new job on February 13. His present position is Fire Management Officer for the Bureau of Land Management’s High Plains District out of their Casper, Wyoming field office. He has had some fire experience in South Dakota, most recently being assigned as the Incident Commander on Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team C the day following the death of Trampus Haskvitz, August 11, 2011 on the Coal Canyon fire north of Edgemont, SD. He was also the Deputy Incident Commander on the Whoopup fire several miles north of the Coal Canyon fire in July, 2011 (slide show of photos of the Whoopup fire).

Below is the news release from the South Dakota  Division of Wildland Fire Suppression:


Esperance Named Director of Wildland Fire Suppression for SDDA

PIERRE, S.D – Jay Esperance has been named as the new Director of Wildland Fire Suppression for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA). He will begin his duties on Feb. 13.

“Jay is a great addition to the department,” said South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones. “His experiences in fire management will be an asset to residents of the Black Hills and the forestry industry.”

Esperance, who has a bachelor of science degree in Resource Management from the University of California-Sacramento, has spent the past 11 years as a fire-management officer for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Prior to that, he spent 23 years with the U.S. Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest working primarily in reforestation and timber stand improvement and later in forest genetics.

As director of Wildland Fire Suppression, Esperance will oversee a number of wildland fire prevention and suppression programs on state and private lands.

“It’s an honor to be selected for this position,” he said. “I’m excited to work with the professional staff in the Division and anxious to work closely with the cooperating agencies and to provide fire protection for the residents of South Dakota.”

Esperance was the Operations Section Chief on two assignments to Australia; he also assisted with emergency support and recovery in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and he has responded during five hurricanes.

South Dakota state Fire Chief retires

2000 Jasper fire
The Jasper fire, about 2 hours after it started on August 25, 2000. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Joe Lowe, the Director (or Fire Chief) of the South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire Suppression retired on Monday. Joe was the first and so far the only Director of the agency that was formed in 2001. Before accepting that position, he worked in wildland fire suppression in southern California.

During most of the decade of the 1990s, there were few large fires in South Dakota. That began changing in August of 2000 when the Flagpole and Jasper fires burned 7,000 and 83,000 acres respectively in the Black Hills. Then-Governor Bill Janklow, who died of brain cancer on January 12, became extremely interested in wildfire suppression at that time.

I was the Incident Commander on the Flagpole fire for the first two days and received two late night phone calls from the Governor telling me he was sending resources to the fire, including 17 dozers and dozens of fire engines from across the state that later just showed up on the fireline. This was outside of the ordering system and the Incident Command System, and created havoc and safety issues on the fire. The Governor also directed that National Guard dozers take independent action on the Jasper fire, and threatened to start backfires without coordinating with the Type 1 Incident Management Team running the fire. The Incident Commander placed a resource order for U.S. Marshals who stood by at the Incident Command Post ready to put a halt to any actions that put firefighters in danger.

The next year, the Governor created the Division of Wildland Fire Suppression and put Joe in charge. Joe’s experience, management skills, and the fact that the Governor trusted him established a buffer between the Governor and the other wildfire organizations in the state — and we heard a collective sigh of relief. Joe brought additional professionalism and the concept of initially attacking fires with “overwhelming force” to the Division.

During his 10 years as the state Fire Chief, Joe, working with his interagency partners, helped establish the Northern Great Plains Interagency Dispatch Center, the Great Plains Interstate Compact, the State Handcrew Program, the State Aerial Firefighting Program, and the Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team C.

Steve Hasenohrl, Assistant Chief for Administration, is the Acting Director until Joe’s replacement is named.

I tried to get in touch with Joe today, calling his gallery, Reflections of South Dakota, but he was out doing a television interview and setting up the gallery’s booth at the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo which begins January 27. Joe has been an avid photographer for years, and opened the gallery with his wife Wendy in May of 2007.

His plans are to remain in the Rapid City area and to be available for assignments on large fires.

Joe Lowe at gallery
Joe Lowe at the opening of his Gallery in Rapid City, May 4, 2007. Photo by Bill Gabbert