Update: Mount Rushmore opens as firefighters make progress on Black Hills wildfires

The Schroeder Fire at Rapid City has burned 2,165 acres

Updated 8:01 a.m. MDT April 1, 2021

Schroeder Fire, March 31, 2021
Schroeder Fire, March 31, 2021. Incident Management Team photo.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial opened for visitors at 5 a.m. Thursday, April 1. The 244 Fire within the Memorial has been more accurately mapped at 136 acres. Sixty firefighters from federal, state, and local government are working to secure containment lines, mop up hot spots, and remove hazardous snags from along roadways.

The Black Hills area is under a Red Flag Warning Thursday for winds gusting up to 35 mph and relative humidity in the low teens.

The Schroeder Fire grew by 30 acres Wednesday as firefighters conducted burnout operations to improve fire lines by removing unburned fuel between the lines and the main body of the fire. This slightly increased the fire’s size to 2,195 acres. Approximately 250 personnel are assigned to the fire.

Originally published at 9:50 a.m. MDT March 31, 2021

244 Fire at Mount Rushmore
244 Fire at Mount Rushmore, March 30, 2021. NPS photo.

Firefighters have made progress on the three wildfires in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Schroeder Fire

The largest is the Schroeder Fire just west of Rapid City. It was mapped from an aircraft at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday and was found to have grown to 2,165 acres, an increase of about 260 acres. At that time it had not crossed Highway 44 or South Canyon Road and fire authorities are optimistic that they can keep it between the two roads.

The satellite overflights Tuesday night did not detect any very large heat sources on any of the three fires, but there are likely many locations on the blazes where heavy fuel is still burning or could even be slowly spreading through light fuels. Fire personnel will no doubt be mopping up for several more days, extinguishing logs and deep-seated heat.

Map of the Schroeder Fire
Map of the Schroeder Fire. Data from 4:30 p.m. MDT March 30, 2021.

Most of the Schroeder Fire has burned in the footprint of the Westberry Trails Fire of 1988.

Westberry Trails - Schroeder Fires
Map showing the locations of the Westberry Trails Fire of 1988 and the Schroeder Fire which was mapped March 30, 2021.

244 Fire

The 244 Fire is named after the highway that leads to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Most of the fire’s 90 acres are within the boundary of the 1,200-acre Memorial, with the rest being in the Black Hills National Forest. The National Park Service said the Memorial is still closed today, March 31. There has been no announcement about when it will reopen.

Very little information has been released about the 244 Fire, but the last update at noon on Tuesday said the head of the fire was active, but generally it was “creeping”, moving very slowly.

Black Hills vulnerable to wildfires

Two hours after the Schroeder Fire was reported, the relative humidity increased from 16% to 50% and the temperature dropped 22 degrees, from 68 to 46 degrees. If that had not occurred it is likely that the three fires would have grown much larger, pushed by the very strong winds.

These wildfires occurring on the same day are an example of how vulnerable the Black Hills and the Mount Rushmore area are to fires, a fact often pointed out to advocates of exploding fireworks at the Memorial.

map of 244 Fire at Mount Rushmore
244 Fire at Mount Rushmore. Mapped by Colorado’s MultiMission Aircraft March 29, 2021. Supplied by the Incident Management Team.
Map of the 244 Fire
Map of the 244 Fire and the Keystone Fire, showing heat detected by satellites during the 24-hour period ending at 2:30 a.m. MDT, March 30, 2021. Wildfire Today and NASA.

Keystone Fire

The last update on the Keystone Fire, at 6:30 p.m. March 30, said personnel were “working to get a line around” the 9-acre blaze which is near Keystone. There were plans to have hand crews working on the fire on March 31.

Schroeder Fire, March 30, 2021
Schroeder Fire, March 30, 2021. Photo by Incident Management Team.

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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.

3 thoughts on “Update: Mount Rushmore opens as firefighters make progress on Black Hills wildfires”

  1. No need to politicize the fire at Mount Rushmore. The susceptability to fire was caused by long term droubt, low humidity and high winds, not fireworks. I do wonder though if the actual burn area is co-located with the prescribed burn conducted last year and that helped mitigate the many factors that could have resulted in a much loager fire…

  2. All of the pictures shown indicate a “black burn,” which many of us call “a good burn” that eliminates and or reduces fuel loading and prevent more catastrophic fires. I hope they can do even more prescribed burns in the area.
    I camp in this area every other year and am absolutely supportive of the multi-agency forest management that is ongoing there. In most cases, it’s a model for the rest of the West where insufficient amounts of Rx burning occurs.

    1. Good point. But keep in mind the Schroeder Fire was initially driven by very low relative humidity and winds gusting over 60 mph hour, and a residence was destroyed. The fire behavior during the first eight hours, when about 1,900 acres burned, is not displayed in these photos.


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