Legion Lake Fire spreads out of state park to Highway 79

Tuesday night the fire mushroomed to about 40,000 acres

The Legion Lake Fire December 13, 2017
The Legion Lake Fire December 13, 2017 along Hwy 16A.

(UPDATED at 8 p.m. MST December 13, 2017)

The north end of the Legion Lake Fire did not move much Wednesday because much of it, especially after burnout operations, is bordered by highways — 87 and 16A. In addition, the northwest wind tends to keep it from spreading north or west.

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

At least one large air tanker dropped five loads of retardant on the south end of the fire Wednesday near Fusion Canyon. At about 5 p.m. the fire spotted across the retardant but a dozer and engine crews were able to stop the additional spread north of 7-11 Road.

tanker 101 retardant drop legion lake fire
Retardant drop on the Legion Lake Fire, December 13, 2017 by Tanker 101, an MD-87. Photo by Rob Powell.

Burnout operations continue near Blue Bell Lodge, the State Game Lodge, and near the dormitories at the northeast end of the Wildlife Loop.

On Wednesday a firefighter experienced a medical condition and was transported off the fire by a Lifeflight helicopter. No other information is available.

The incident Management Team reported Wednesday afternoon that the fire has burned 47,312 acres. That figure is based on a very rough, quick and dirty map of the perimeter. If the fire does not grow very much after Wednesday afternoon, it is likely that the acreage figure will decrease when there is time for more accurate mapping.

The weather forecast for Thursday still features strong north-northwest winds of 13 to 21 mph gusting near 30 with the relative humidity mostly in the 40s. The next significant chance for precipitation will be Saturday — 40 percent chance of receiving about 0.03″ of rain or 0.2″ of snow.

A large proportion of Custer State Park has burned (I’m guessing 30 to 60 percent), and the park is asking for hay donations.

Photography Prints

Below, is an update on the fire, December 13 at 2:00 p.m., from Travis Lipp, Operations Section Chief on the Rocky Mountain Blue Team.

Today after leaving the Incident Command Post I recorded a video of part of the journey along Hwy 16A; “Driving through the Legion Lake Fire”.


(UPDATED at 12:32 p.m. MST December 13, 2017)


(Updated at 11:23 a.m. MST December 13, 2017)

The Legion Lake Fire exploded across Custer County in South Dakota Tuesday night burning out of Custer State Park, through the east side of Wind Cave National Park, and reaching Highway 79 before the forward progress was halted by firefighters working through the cold, windy night.

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

The fire was pushed by predicted strong winds gusting well over 35 mph out of the north-northwest. Combined with relative humidity in the teens and twenties the fire spread quickly past the Blue Bell Lodge, French Creek Horse Camp and down Lame Johnny Road in the middle of the night. Evacuations were ordered in those areas as well as Buffalo Gap and Fairburn. Some firefighters who were en route home after working on the fire all day were called back to protect structures. Numerous fire departments from across the Black Hills sent personnel and equipment in an effort, apparently successful, to save homes.

Highway 79, the main route from the south into Rapid City, was closed during the night and was still closed at 8:45 a.m and was open after 11 a.m.. Wednesday from Hermosa to Maverick Junction east of Hot Springs. The two dirt roads in Wind Cave National Park, NPS 5 (aka Red Valley Road) and NPS 6, are closed. Highway 87 is open in Wind Cave, but closed in Custer State Park. The portion of Highway 16A in the state park is also closed.

A gallery of 14 photos of the large air tankers at Rapid City that may be used on the fire is at Fire Aviation.

Jeni Lawver, a spokesperson for the Blue Type 2 Incident Management Team, said multiple outbuildings, but no residences, were destroyed. Firefighters were able to protect the structures at Blue Bell and the State Game Lodge. The IMT estimates the fire now encompases 35,000 acres but as of 8:15 a.m. they had not been able to accurately map the fire. Satellite data from 2:49 a.m. Wednesday indicates the approximate size is over 41,000 acres.

Today the two large air tankers that have been staged at Rapid City will be used if needed, Ms. Lawver said.

Photo gallery of scenes from the Legion Lake Fire, including a few of air tankers parked at Rapid City

As you can see in the map below,  by early Wednesday morning at 2:48 a.m. the fire had burned from the Legion Lake area to the southeast, across the Wildlife Loop Road and the northeast section of Wind Cave National Park, reaching Highway 79 about five miles north of Buffalo Gap. The Incident Management Team reported at 9 a.m. that overnight the fire continued to the south reaching the 7-11 road east of Buffalo Gap, but still remained west of Highway 79 thanks to successful burnouts conducted by firefighters working through the night.

Legion Lake Fire
The red line was the approximate perimeter of the Legion Lake Fire at 2:48 a.m. December 13, 2017 based on heat sensors aboard a satellite. The white line was the approximate perimeter about 24 hours before.

Ranchers lost some fences in the area but all of the boundary fence on the east side of Wind Cave NP has been replaced in recent years with metal — steel posts anchored in concrete. It could be problematic if the bison in Wind Cave escaped and mixed with cattle, potentially ruining the genetic purity of the animals in the park.

Legion Lake Fire
The Legion Lake Fire burns through the east side of Wind Cave National Park at 12:07 a.m. MST December 13, 2017.

Wednesday morning a nearby weather station was still recording strong winds gusting at 22 to 30 mph out of the north. The forecast for the fire area predicts continued unfavorable weather for firefighters on Wednesday — 14 to 20 mph winds gusting out of the northwest at 20 to 29 mph with relative humidity in the 20s. The wind should decrease Wednesday night but resume early Thursday morning with gusts from the north above 30 mph and humidity in the 40s.

Art Prints

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+

19 thoughts on “Legion Lake Fire spreads out of state park to Highway 79”

  1. “Today the two large air tankers that have been staged at Rapid City will be used if needed, Ms. Lawver said.”

    It is nice to have them for “eye candy,” but the air tankers will be much more effective if they are loaded with retardant, flown to the fire and the retardant is released on the fire.

    1. High winds could very well prevent that as well as any helicopter support or fixed wing tactical or lead plane.

  2. It says “multiple outbuildings, but no residences, were destroyed.” Were any cabins lost? I’m not sure if they’re considered outbuildings or residences. Thanks

  3. The best remedy for fighting fires is strengthening all laws and rules regarding the use of fire, firearms, Off Road vehicles, fireworks and all other causes of wildfires. Prevention is always cheaper than firefighting and way cheaper.

    1. how would “laws” have prevented this fire when it was caused by a down power line from strong winds?

    2. 1) Ummm, hello? All those things are against the law in Custer State Park. 2) None of these things started this fire. Please have a clue what you are talking about before you start.

    3. How can you say this when the cause hasn’t even been identified that it was started by a human. South Dakota has all of this set in place. Living in this area we are all aware of the dangers. We care about our environment and do what we can to prevent this. Many fires in our area are started from lightning, now how can you blame humans for that!

  4. I don’t think any bison are in heat now. Bigger risk would be any mixing of bison between parks and then not getting sorted. Diseases between bison and cattle would be next on the list.

  5. Interested to know if the Badger Hole Cabin burned. It is a historic cabin. My husband’s uncle Badger Clark was poet lauraete of South Dakota and I want to let the family know.

  6. A few things I have read above, I just want to say that what I have read and heard in the news was that they have not officially stated the cause of the fire. I would guess that they won’t know for sure for a few days or even weeks.

    It saddens me to see that we have this fire as this is home for me, however, naturally fire can be good for the environment. Short term effects are devastating but the long term can be rewarding.

    I pray for the landowners who have been affected, the firefighters and their safety, better weather for containment, and for the environment itself.

    Thank you to the firefighters for your continued effort and thank you to the State of South Dakota.

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