Activity on Legion Lake Fire increases Tuesday evening

The fire began to spread quickly again after 5 p.m., heading southwest toward the Wildlife Loop Road

Legion Lake Fire

Above: The southwest side of the Legion Lake Fire as seen from Mt. Coolidge Tuesday afternoon December 12, 2017. Note the snow still left along the road.

(UPDATED at 10:30 p.m. MST December 12, 2017)

Firefighters from around the Black Hills responded to the Legion Lake Fire Tuesday night to help provide structure protection as the fire ran to the south and southeast pushed by increasing winds. Areas being threatened include Blue Bell, the Horse Camp northeast of Blue Bell, and Lame Johnny Road.

The fire has spread out of Custer State Park into the Lame Johnny Road area. At about 10:30 p.m. a portion of Highway 79, the main route south of Rapid City, was closed by authorities.

Below is an excerpt from a posting on the Custer State Park Facebook page at about 10:30 p.m. December 12:

All residents on Lame Johnny Road should plan for immediate evacuation. Highway 79 from Maverick Junction to Highway 40 is now closed. The town of Fairburn has also been put on pre-evacuation notice.

Between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. a weather station in the area recorded sustained winds at 13 to 20 mph gusting above 30 mph and relative humidity in the teens.

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(UPDATED at 7:30 p.m. MDT December 12, 2017)

Less than an hour after we posted the information farther down at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday, we learned that several local fire departments are sending firefighters to the Legion Lake Fire to help deal with the rapidly expanding fire and protect structures. Tuesday evening the east side of the fire developed a rapid rate of spread to the southeast threatening structures. The Incident Management Team is hoping they can stop it at the Wildlife Loop Road, but the strong wind will present a challenge.

A weather station southeast of the fire started recording increasing wind speeds at 5:18 p.m. on Tuesday, with sustained winds of 14 to 17 mph gusting at 24 to 34.

Custer State Park posted the following statement on their Facebook page at about 7:07 p.m. Tuesday:

#LegionLakeFire activity has greatly increased due to high wind gusts. It is believed that this has taken place in the French Creek Natural Area with spotting up to one half mile east of the fire flank. Due to smoky conditions, firefighters are challenged to know the exact location where the fire has spotted. Firefighters are currently on the ground assessing the situation and structure defense resources are en-route. We will continue to update you with fire information as we receive it.

Custer County Sheriff’s Office is in the process of evacuating residents at risk east of the Custer State Park boundary near Wildlife Loop Road and LH Road. Please call Custer County Dispatch for evacuation information at 605-673-8176.

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(Originally published at 6:35 p.m. MST December 12, 2017)

On Tuesday for the first time, firefighters on the Legion Lake Fire east of Custer, South Dakota had access to an aircraft and the smoke cleared long enough to more accurately map the fire from the air. They found that it now covers about 4,000 acres.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the Legion Lake Fire are tagged “Legion Lake Fire”.

The Incident Management Team led by Incident Commander Rob Powell has developed a strategy of removing the fuel ahead of the fire by burning it in a controlled manner from available roads. This will increase the size significantly, quadrupling it to about 15,000 to 16,000 acres, Mr. Powell said Tuesday afternoon. There are several reasons for choosing this strategy.

  1. Strong winds are in the forecast Tuesday night through Thursday evening — 16 to 24 mph gusting up to 33 mph. The sooner the firelines are secured by burning, the better the chance of making it through the wind event unscathed.
  2. The access into the area where the fire is burning now is very limited. There are some two-track roads, but they are too narrow for a vehicle to turn around, pass an oncoming vehicle, or park off the road. This would make it unsafe to commit people to those locations.
  3. Finding highly skilled hand crews, such as Type 1 Hotshot crews, is extremely difficult in December, especially with the huge Thomas Fire threatening thousands of homes in Southern California. This would make it very difficult to construct hand fireline  on the fire edge around the entire fire.
map Legion Lake Fire
The red line shows the estimated location of the perimeter of the Legion Lake Fire Tuesday afternoon. Map by the Incident Management Team. Click to enlarge.

On the south side the plan is to use Rimrock and Ridge Roads, while on the east, Dry Creek Road and the Wildlife Loop are the targets.

Firefighters on Tuesday were busy implementing the burnouts along Highways 87 and 16a. A fresh shift will take over around sunset and continue the burnout all night.

burning out Legion Lake Fire
Firefighters burning out from Highway 87 on the Legion Lake Fire Tuesday afternoon. Click to enlarge.

Custer State Park is still closed, as are Highways 87 and 16a through the park. It is expected to remain closed through Friday, tentatively. A person contacted us explaining her wedding is planned for Saturday in the Game Lodge in the park. She is obviously hoping it will be open by then. (UPDATE: the couple is moving their wedding to Lead, SD.)

The two large air tankers that were ordered Monday are at the Rapid City Airport, an MD87 (Tanker 101) and an RJ85 (Tanker 163). We checked them out Tuesday.

Air Tanker 163, and RJ85
Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, at Rapid City December 12, 2017.
Air Tanker 101, an MD-87
Air Tanker 101, an MD-87, at Rapid City December 12, 2017.

The tankers have not been used yet, but if the Incident Management Team can hold onto the aircraft until the burnouts are complete and the wind event is over, it will add an element of security and increase the chances of success.

A Type 3 helicopter about the size of a Bell 206 is being used on the fire for recon and mapping.

Later Tuesday night we will publish a gallery with more photos from the fire.

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. Google+

3 thoughts on “Activity on Legion Lake Fire increases Tuesday evening”

  1. Thank you for keeping us posted Bill. Mark and his crew from Angostura were on their way home this evening when they were called back to the fire. Expect they’ll be there all night at least.

      1. Thank you for the updates. Any maps or idea on where the fire is along Lame Johnny? I have sold property to several vacant owners there as well as LH and some South of the park. Everyone is pretty nervous and we need to be able to get in to locate cattle and buffalo As soon as they allow us.

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