Interview with Incident Commander of the Beaver Fire in South Dakota

Incident Commander Todd Hoover provided information about the Beaver Fire east of Pringle, South Dakota, September 14, 2017. We asked him about how aircraft were used, and we also have video and still photos of firefighters, air tankers, and helicopters.

The fire has burned approximately 400 acres between Wind Cave National Park and Pringle, South Dakota. On Friday, September 15, it was slowed by rain in the area.

We apologize for wind noise in the recording.

Articles tagged Beaver Fire and the Rankin Fire on Wildfire Today.

Rain slows wildfires in Northern Rockies and South Dakota

Above: Precipitation received at RAWS weather stations in northwest Montana in the 24 hours before 9:42 a.m. September 15, 2017. The amounts range from a few hundredths to almost half an inch.

Western Montana and the northern Great Plains are receiving some much needed moisture that will slow the spread of dozens of large fires in the area, some of which have been burning for more than a month and a half.

The Rice Ridge Fire has spread over 155,000 acres just east of Seeley Lake 35 miles northeast of Missoula, Montana since it was discovered July 24. The incident management team reported Thursday evening that the east side of the fire had received a quarter of an inch of rain. A weather station just northeast of the community of Seeley Lake recorded 0.05″ overnight, and the forecast calls for another quarter of an inch at that location on Friday.

A weather station near the 53,000-acre Lolo Peak Fire south of Missoula recorded 0.16″.

weather cam nine mile
A weather cam view at Nine Mile on Interstate 90 west of Missoula, 8:30 a.m. September 15, 2017.

Some of the higher elevations in western Montana are receiving snow.

weather cam homestake pass
A weather cam view at Homestake Pass, 6,329′ elevation, on Interstate 90 southeast of Butte, MT, 9:08 a.m. September 15, 2017.

Firefighters are “backhauling” equipment on the Rice Ridge Fire, collecting items that are no longer needed and taking them back to the incident base, such as fire hose, water pumps, and portable tanks.

Most of the weather stations in the southern Black Hills where the Beaver and Rankin Fires are burning have received about a third of an inch of rain as of 10 a.m. on Friday, but one station northeast of Newcastle, WY measured almost three-quarters of an inch. Some firefighting resources, including crews and engines, were released from these two fires late in the day Thursday.

Photos of the Beaver Fire in South Dakota

Above: An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.

(Originally published at 10:37 a.m. MDT September 14, 2017)

Herb Ryan of the Custer Free Press gave us permission to use these excellent photos he took September 13 at the Beaver Fire which is burning west of Wind Cave National Park in southwest South Dakota.

(More information about the Beaver Fire and the nearby Rankin Fire.)

The photo above is spectacular. It is a close-up of one of the most recently converted air tankers, an MD-87, dropping on the fire.

This is how he described getting the shot:

I was waiting for this and it broke out [of the] heavy smoke and this is the one full image I shot. Was on the back side of the fire with a Canon 7D and a 70-200 f2.8 on the camera cranked all the way down to 70mm.

The photos below are also courtesy of Mr. Ryan.

Beaver Fire firefighters

Beaver Fire

Beaver Fire blackhawk helicopter

Beaver Fire


The photos above were shot on September 13 when there was a great deal of activity on the Beaver Fire. Today, September 14, firefighters are no longer battling a spreading fire, they are improving fire line, burning out, mopping up, and patrolling to make sure it does not jump up and run again.

Bill Gabbert took the next batch of photos September 14. (Click a photo to see larger versions.)

Rankin Fire expands to over 1,000 acres while the Beaver Fire grows nearby

Above: An MD-87 air tanker maneuvers through the smoky air over the Beaver Fire just outside Wind Cave National Park, September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(UPDATED at 7:51 p.m. MDT September 14, 2017)

Thursday night there were enough openings in the clouds for satellites to get a pretty good look at the Rankin Fire in Wind Cave National Park in southwest South Dakota and the new fire first reported Wednesday afternoon west of the park, the Beaver Fire.

This new fire is near the intersection of Beaver Creek and Flynn Creek Roads in the Black Hills National Forest not far from the old Cold Springs School. It slowed overnight and Thursday afternoon was estimated at 350 acres. No structures are reported burned and the cause is still under investigation. At this time there are no mandatory evacuations. Firefighters will be conducting controlled burning operations on Thursday to help secure portions of the perimeter.

The size of the Rankin Fire is now estimated at 2,133 acres.

The map below shows the locations of the two fires. The red, brown, and yellow dots represent heat detected by a satellite. The red dots, the most recent, were seen at 3:37 a.m. MDT September 14, 2017.

Rankin Beaver fire south dakota
Map showing the location of the Rankin and Beaver Fires. The red, brown, and yellow dots represent heat detected by a satellite. The red dots were seen at 3:37 a.m. MDT September 14, 2017. Click to enlarge.

The weather forecast for the fire area calls for a nearly 100 probability of rain Thursday night, with a chance of additional showers through noon on Saturday. The total rainfall could be more than 0.6 inch, which would be enough to slow the spread of the two fires to a crawl, at least temporarily, but not enough to put them out. It should reduce the smoke in the Pringle and Hot Springs areas.


(Originally published at 12:05 a.m. MDT September 14, 2017.)

Influenced again by erratic winds generated by scattered thunderstorms, the Rankin Fire in the northeast corner of Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota continued to grow Tuesday night and Wednesday, blackening another 432 acres to bring the total up to 1,192 acres, according to the Great Plains Interagency Dispatch Center in Rapid City.

More firefighters are pouring into the area as a Type 2 Incident Management Team is getting prepared to assume command of the fire Thursday morning. On Wednesday two large air tankers, converted MD-87 airliners, dropped water or retardant on the fire accompanied by two helicopters, a Bell 407 and a “Firehawk” Sikorsky S70A.

Another fire was discovered at about 2 p.m. Wednesday about 2.5 miles east of the Rankin Fire just outside the National Park boundary in the Black Hills National Forest. Named the Beaver Fire for the nearby road and creek of the same name, it grew rapidly as the MD-87’s and firefighters on the ground attempted to limit the spread. By Wednesday night it was estimated to have covered about 140 acres. It is four miles east of Pringle and 12 miles north of Hot Springs.

We saw two Hotshot Crews arriving at the fires Wednesday, the Craig and the Alpine Hotshots, both from Colorado, at about the same time a fire engine arrived from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. Likely there are many other crews, engines, and logistical resources that have arrived or are en route.

(Click on a photo below to see larger versions. The captions are at the top.)

More photos of aircraft on the fire are at

On Wednesday the weather station at Elk Mountain in Wind Cave National Park recorded a high of 89 degrees, relative humidity in the 20’s, and southwest to southeast winds of 4 to 15 mph gusting at 16 to 28. Under those conditions wildfires are likely to continue to spread unless they run out of fuel.

The forecast Thursday for the fire area will not be as conducive to rapid fire growth since the humidity is expected to rise during the day from about 40 percent in the morning to over 60 percent by sundown, with the chance for rain increasing during that period from 6 percent to 39 percent. As the chance for rain continues, by Friday evening there could be about 3/10 of an inch of rain in the area with another 0.05 inch by Saturday night. The wind Wednesday night and Thursday will be from the northwest, north, and northeast, which could push smoke into Hot Springs.

Fire shelter packaging has failed on two recent firefighter entrapments

Valley fire entrapment site
Entrapment site of firefighters on the Valley Fire. Photo from the CAL FIRE report. (click to enlarge)

When two firefighters in California being overrun by flames on the Valley Fire in September of this year found that the plastic bag around their fire shelters had partially melted making it very difficult to deploy the life-saving device, it was not the first time this has happened.

A year earlier on the Beaver Fire in northern California two other firefighters experienced the same issue. The plastic became soft making it impossible for the tear strip to function. One of them used a knife to cut through the soft material that acted like “Saran Wrap”, and later said, “It wasn’t like the practice shelter at all”.

Four firefighters on the Valley Fire suffered significant burns to their heads, faces, arms, and hands before they were able to get into the shelters. The injuries on the Beaver Fire were less serious.

The Beaver Fire report addressed the failure of the fire shelter packaging:

Two of the firefighters who deployed reported that their shelter’s PVC bag became hot, which made it soft and pliable. This affected the ability of the red tear strip to pull apart.

But there was no recommendation that the design be modified.

The report on the 2015 Valley Fire entrapment describes a similar problem:

…FF4 had difficulty opening the fire shelter case from the Chainsaw Pack; the clear plastic covering of the fire shelter was soft and melted. FF4 had to remove the gloves to tear the plastic away from the aluminum shell of the fire shelter. FF3 couldn’t get the fire shelter out of the case because the clear plastic cover was melted to the white plastic protective sleeve…

One of the first times shelters were used was in 1964 when 36 members of the El Cariso Hotshots deployed them on a fire near Cajon Pass in southern California. Two years later 12 men on the crew were killed when they were entrapped on the Loop Fire on the Angeles National Forest — they were not carrying shelters at the time. In the hours before they began their fatal downhill fireline construction assignment the fire in that area had not been very active.

The U.S. Forest Service has modified the design of fire shelters several times since they were introduced in the 1960s. After 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013 in spite of using the devices, the USFS began an effort to redesign them and has been testing numerous materials and configurations, including insulation that has been supplied by NASA.

The Press Democrat has a lengthy article about the recent deployments and the design of fire shelters.

…Firefighters across Sonoma County said they had been anxious to see the official preliminary Cal Fire “green sheet,” a summary of the incident released Oct. 3 detailing how the firefighters became injured [on the Valley Fire]. Many said they were stunned to learn about the plastic melting and the equipment failure on the survival tents they will all carry in the next wildland blaze even as the effectiveness of that equipment is under review.

Firefighters, especially those who jump into the thick of it, deal with extreme situations and the equipment must be able to withstand those situations, they said.

Ernie Loveless, who ran Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit for 20 years until he retired five years ago, said he was concerned about the durability of the bags after they were introduced in 2004.

“It seemed strange to have safety stuff like that made out of plastic that will melt in extreme heat,” said Loveless, who is now Schell-Vista fire board president. “I asked: ‘Why do we put stuff in plastic?’ The answer I received from our academy at the time is it was the best material they knew of at the time.”…

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.

Report released about entrapment of three firefighters on the Beaver Fire

Beaver Fire entrapment
Photo taken of the Beaver Fire the day after three firefighters were entrapped. It was shot from along the Klamath River about a mile west of the Incident Command Post, looking in the direction of the entrapment, which occurred beyond the smoke visible in this photo taken by Bill Gabbert.

A facilitated learning analysis has been released about the entrapment of three firefighters August 11, 2014 on the Beaver Fire northwest of Yreka, California.

Entrapped that day were a Dozer Operator (DZOP), a Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB), and a Heavy Equipment Boss Trainee (HEQBt). They all got inside fire shelters in a small deployment site that was not large enough to qualify as a safety zone. Their injuries included some first and second degree burns, but overnight hospitalization was not required.

The dozer operator’s story in his own words:

By the time I got off the dozer, the fire had closed in on two sides—and was closing in on my third and fourth sides. I worked as long as I could to get us more protection. I intended to push up more berms. Embers were falling everywhere. I spent too much time getting dug in. I backed the cat in. I should have deployed sooner. My intent was to get us all together under the dozer. I was not in the best position.

I tossed off my ball cap, put my hard hat on, grabbed my gloves and shelter. I had my web gear bungeed to the cage. I grabbed it quick and rolled in the dirt under the dozer. I pulled the shelter’s tabs, but they didn’t work. So I ripped at it to get it open.

It was a confined space so it took a while to get the shelter open. I had to physically unfold every fold to get it deployed. That’s when my leg got a little scorched. Overall, the shelter worked the way it was supposed to. Those shelters no doubt saved our lives.

The video below includes videos and still photos taken during the entrapment.

beaver fire convection column
Don Hall sent us this picture of a convection column over the Beaver fire, saying it was taken at about the same time the three firefighters were entrapped.

We first wrote about the entrapment on August 12.