Telephone company says Legion Lake Fire was caused by “act of God”

The 54,000-acre fire became the third largest in the recorded history of South Dakota

Legion Lake Fire
Legion Lake Fire December 12, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A telephone company that is being sued by landowners for allegedly causing the Legion Lake Fire claims the 54,000-acre fire was caused by an “act of God”.

There is no question that a tree falling on a Black Hills Energy power line created sparks which ignited the fire December 11, 2017 in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Three families claim in the lawsuit that Mt. Rushmore Telephone Company weakened the root system of the Ponderosa pine by digging a utility trench, making it less resistant to strong winds which were present when the fire started.

Below are excerpts from an article in the Rapid City Journal:

In its response, attorneys for Black Hills Energy deny almost everything in the pleading documents, save that a tree fell on a company power line. BHE contests their liability and suggests the plaintiffs themselves should be viewed as equally if not more guilty for their damage in the Legion Lake Fire. 
“Plaintiffs failed to mitigate their damages,” attorneys for Black Hills Energy write, “and any damages resulting from Plaintiffs’ failure to mitigate their damages may not be recovered.”
Mt. Rushmore Telephone Company’s response is even shorter, arguing the Legion Lake Fire was “the result of an act of God.”

The 10,000 acres of private land that burned in the fire is used for raising cattle and many land owners lost pastures, fences, and winter hay.

More than half of the portion of Custer State Park that was available for their bison herd burned, and park officials asked for hay donations to help the animals get through the winter. Over 8,000 acres of Wind Cave National Park also burned in the Legion Lake Fire and in the earlier Rankin Fire, but park spokesperson Tom Farrell said they still had plenty of forage in reserve for the 260 elk and 350 bison.

Legion Lake Fire
Legion Lake Fire, December 13, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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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.