Fire prevention at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Don't Burn the Rally

In case you are not familiar with it, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a big deal. Every year hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts descend on Sturgis, South Dakota and the greater Black Hills area in southwest South Dakota and Wyoming. This year an even larger crowd, up to 1.2 million people, is expected since it is the 75th anniversary of the event which will be held August 3 through 9. Every motel within a hundred miles will be booked up, and at rates much higher than you’d pay at other times.

The wildland fire agencies are used to the routine and they usually make special preparations and have representatives designated to be the points of contact with the Rally Operations Center set up by the state Office of Emergency Management.

By Monday, August 3 there will be two single engine air tankers (SEATs) in the area, one each at Hot Springs, SD and at Chadron, NE. Two helicopters, a Type1 and a Type 3 are based at Custer, SD this year, but they have not spent much time there yet since they have been assigned to fires out of the area. The Type 3 will be available locally for the duration of the rally but the Type 1 is on an assignment elsewhere. The Black Hills National Forest has brought in six fire engines from other areas to beef up the local fire suppression capability. Currently there are no air tankers positioned at the Rapid City Air Tanker Base; however, the facility is open and staffed.

A few years ago the local agencies started the “Don’t Burn the Rally” program, in an effort to educate bikers from Ohio and Newfoundland about how not to burn the place down. Thankfully this year due to abundant rain in the spring and early summer the herbaceous vegetation is greener than usual, so it will be a little more difficult to get a large fire going.

I noticed the law enforcement officer on the Harley Davidson motorcycle in the poster above, and that there are no markings visible to identify the agency. I don’t know if they are still doing it, but Harley used to provide several bikes like that to the local National Parks, and possibly other agencies in the Black Hills, so that their law enforcement officers could use them during the rally. Some of the guys who had their own personal bikes loved being able to cruise around on a motorcycle while getting paid for it.

And below, you’ll see that even the weather forecasters in Rapid City are getting into the Rally spirit.

Rally weather forecast

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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.