Cottonwood Fire burns tens of thousands of acres east of Wall, South Dakota

(UPDATED at 1:51 p.m. MDT October 18, 2016)

map cottonwood fire
Preliminary map of the perimeter of the Cottonwood Fire, October 17, 2016. The red line was determined with the use of a GPS receiver. The rest of the perimeter is approximate.

Rain in the late afternoon and early evening on Monday helped firefighters working on the Cottonwood Fire 12 miles east of Wall, South Dakota.

Crews were able to assess damaged and destroyed structures inside the perimeter of the fire and it was determined that no primary residences were destroyed. An exact number of cabins, outbuildings and other structures that burned will  be determined on Tuesday.

The incident management team anticipates 100 percent containment by the end of the operational period today at 6:00 pm MDT.


(UPDATED at 6 p.m. MDT October 17, 2016)

The incident management team on the Cottonwood Fire 12 miles southeast of Wall, South Dakota at 4 p.m. today estimated that about 31,000 acres have burned, with the benefit of better mapping and the ability to evaluate the fire perimeter in the daylight. The team still intends to map the perimeter with a GPS receiver to finalize the data.

At about 6:10 p.m. MDT on Monday it was raining on at least part of the fire.

In addition to the 137 head of cattle that have been reported killed, structures were destroyed but the number of them has not been released.

There are no road closures in effect at this time and Interstate 90 currently has no restrictions in the fire area. Smoke should no longer pose a risk to motorists. The fire area will be clearly visible to travelers on I-90.

There are currently nearly 100 personnel working on the fire. At its peak, close to 300 firefighters were fighting the fire.


(UPDATED at 9:20 p.m. MDT October 16, 2016)

The name of the fire that started about 12 miles southeast of Wall, South Dakota has been changed from “131” to “Cottonwood”.

The fire is currently being managed by the Pennington County Type 3 Incident Management Team (PCIMT3) and is under Unified Command with representatives of Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Wall Fire Department, Jackson County, and Pennington County.

At 6 p.m. the incident management team estimated the fire had burned between 5,000 and 6,000 acres of private and federal land based on information from personnel in an aircraft. More accurate size information is expected on Monday and may result in a change, they said.

map cottonwood fire
This map produced by the Incident Management Team shows the approximate area of the Cottonwood Fire between Interstate 90 and Highway 14 south of Cottonwood Monday morning. They are currently working on a more accurate map made with the help of a GPS receiver.

Fire authorities reported that structures have burned, but did not provide any details on the number or if they were residences or other buildings.

All roads in the fire area were open at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday.


(UPDATED at 5:56 p.m. MDT October 16, 2016)

About an hour after the fire named “131” (later changed to “Cottonwood Fire”) was reported at 1 p.m. to the Great Plains Interagency Dispatch Center on Sunday, a heat-sensing satellite passed 438 miles overhead at 2:04 p.m. and recorded heat signatures indicating that it had burned approximately 8,000 acres. That, of course, is a very rough estimate based on the data from the satellite — the fire could be smaller, or larger.

The fire, which appears to be nine miles long, was about 12 miles southeast of Wall, South Dakota, and mostly north of Interstate 90 at 2:04 p.m.

map cottonwood fire
Map showing the approximate location of the Cottonwood Fire east of Wall, South Dakota. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:04 p.m. MDT October 16, 2016.

It has been easily detected by weather radar:

Since 1 p.m. today the weather station 10 miles west of the fire at Pinnacles in Badlands National Park has been recording 14 to 24 mph winds from the southwest shifting to come out of the northwest with gusts above 36 mph. The wind direction change could be a result of the cold front that is passing through. The temperature has been around 80 with a relative humidity between 19 and 26 percent. The area is under a Red Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service.

As of 5 p.m. the South Dakota Department of Transportation reported that Interstate 90, previously closed between Wall and Kadoka due to the fire, had opened, but they urged motorists to find alternate routes since emergency responders were working in the area.

i-90 prairie
From Google Street View, this is a typical scene looking northeast from I-90 in the general area of the fire. It is obviously prairie.


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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.