Rapid City FD contains wildfire, then conducts prescribed fire

Yesterday the Rapid City, South Dakota fire department successfully suppressed a grass fire that was threatening homes, containing it after it had only burned a few acres or less (map). But then, according to an article in the Rapid City Journal:

After the fire was contained, the emergency responders decided to conduct a controlled burn in the area to prevent another fire. [Assistant fire chief for the Rapid City Fire Department Mike] Maltaverne said the weather was right and the resources were already on scene.

“We can do it in a controlled setting,” Maltaverne said. “With the recent moisture and all these resources, we can eliminate all these fuels.”

Including the initial fire, about five acres of brush will be burned after the firefighters complete the controlled burn, Maltaverne said.

We were curious if the “controlled burn” was part of the suppression process, such as a burn out, or if it was an actual prescribed fire, unrelated to the wildfire. This morning Wildfire Today talked with Captain Mark Kirchgesler, the Training Coordinator for the Rapid City Fire Department, about the fire. He had not been on the scene of the fire, but said, according to the report, that the size of the fire was about 150 feet by 150 feet (about 1/2 acre) when the first engine arrived. The wildfire had been contained or controlled before the prescribed fire was initiated. The combined size of the wildfire and the adjacent prescribed was five acres.

He said it is not unusual for the fire department to conduct prescribed fires within their jurisdiction to reduce future wildfire threats to structures. When asked who has the authority to initiate a prescribed fire on the spur of the moment out in the field after controlling a wildfire, he said it can be “the incident commander in cooperation with the Assistant Chief for Operations”. He said air quality is always considered before igniting any prescribed fire within the city.

In one sense, you might envy the Rapid City FD for their ability to recognize an opportunity to reduce wildland fuels around structures and seize it immediately, with little or no paperwork and a very streamlined approval process. Those of us that have planned and conducted prescribed fires for federal or most state wildland fire agencies, don’t have the luxury of eliminating the planning process. I only hope that their policy does not backfire on them somewhere down the road.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Rapid City FD contains wildfire, then conducts prescribed fire”

  1. Bill, Good to know you are still in the area paying attention. After your long, successful career, you remember how the media can take bytes of an interview and say what they want for thier feature story that same evening. The question was asked “why we’re not extinguishing the fire and can you explain what the crews are doing now? The explanation was something like this: When we have enough resources on scene of a small fire of this size adjacent to a middle school that is problematic for arson fires, we will at times conduct a “burnout” and eliminate fuels in a controlled setting in April instead of a potentially catostrophic scenario in August where we lose structures. One of Rapid City’s top fire threats is a catostrophic interface fire. We take it very serious and take an aggressive approach to protecting human development where it encroaches natural vegetation. To your closing comments, we appreciate your envy of our situation and please understand that our planning process is ongoing year round when in comes to interface fires. When we conduct “prescribed fire” within the City, we draw on both State and Federal agencies for thier cooperation and input to a comprehensive burn plan and thier contributing resources the day of the burn. Thanks,
    Mike Maltaverne

  2. So just this week, Texas Parks & Wildlife responded to a small fire on a state park. Then after the fire was out, they lit a Rx fire. It’s nice when you get that kind of quick turnaround. That doesn’t seem to happen in the Feds with organization inertia. Though in the case of TPWD, they likely had a burn plan in place waiting


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