Some firefighters traveled long distances to help fight the Cold Fire

Above: Firefighters from the Brookings and Colman fire departments in eastern South Dakota patrolled a fire line during burning out operations on the Cold Fire, April 3, 2016.

Some of the firefighters working on the 1,896-acre Cold Fire 8 miles south of Custer, South Dakota traveled long distances to help out the locals.

Several fire engines from Sioux Falls, Brookings, and Colman in the extreme eastern part of South Dakota drove more than 400 miles. A hand crew came all the way from Oregon.

Ironically, the closest engine to the fire, at the Wind Cave National Park headquarters four miles away, sat in its garage. The park’s Assistant Fire Management Officer Al Stover said a confluence of factors resulted in none of their firefighters being able to help put out the fire that burned 316 acres inside the park. Their engine boss was at a training class and their seven-person Wildland Fire Module was in Kansas assisting with a prescribed fire. However the park did have at least two personnel at the fire, staffing a road block and serving as an Agency Administrator’s representative. And, we saw the Park Superintendent at the fire Saturday evening.

There are seven National Parks and Monuments in the greater Black Hills area. The firefighters (full time and collateral-duty) and engines in those parks are all coordinated by the Northern Great Plains National Park Service Fire Management Office. It is unfortunate they were not able to at least put together from those seven parks, half a dozen firefighters and a crew boss to lend a hand.


(UPDATE at 10:33 a.m. MDT, April 7, 2016)

I wrote a comment below the article on April 6. Here is a copy:

“The Park Service is regressing to their roots of 30 years ago. In the early and mid-1980s they only had a skeleton of a fire management organization. Then 1988 happened. When much of Yellowstone National Park burned it got the attention not only of the highest levels of NPS management, but Congress as well. More money flowed into the fire organization. New positions were created.

In recent years Congress has cut the budget for NPS Fire, and many of those new, and needed, positions have been abolished or are not filled if a person leaves. These things run in cycles. When the next 1988 Yellowstone happens, things might turn around. For a while. Until the Administration and Congress lose interest again.

When politicians think of the NPS, they think of beautiful parks and Ranger-led interpretive walks. On the other hand, when the Forest Service is mentioned, they remember the last time USFS Chief Tom Tidwell sat in front of them in a hearing, just months before, when he begged and pleaded for more money for USFS fire management which consumes about half of the USFS funds.

I can’t help but wonder if funding for Department of Interior fire would be different if all federal wildland fire management were in ONE agency. That way it would be more difficult to ignore four of the five organizations.”

South Dakota: Draw Fire

You know that moment when you open your truck door and the wind grabs it and almost rips it off the vehicle? I experienced that moment late this afternoon when I arrived at a new fire in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Draw Fire.

It was reported at 4:55 p.m. today by the Fire Management Officer of Wind Cave National Park, Eric Allen. He was on the south side of the park and told the dispatcher he saw a light grey smoke on the north side of the park.

Draw Fire
Draw Fire. Photo by Jared Hohn for the U.S. Forest Service.

If the fire that started Saturday three miles farther north had not been named the Cold Fire (after Cold Springs School) this new fire SHOULD have earned that name. Thanks to a cold front, it was 38 degrees late this afternoon, the wind chill was 28, there was a steady 25 mph wind with stronger gusts, and it was spitting rain. I was glad I was only visiting and could leave as soon as my camera trigger finger became numb.

Since it was cold, the humidity was high, and there were a few drops of precipitation in the air, even WITH the very strong wind the fire did not spread as quickly as it would have in the morning before the cold front came in, or in the previous three days when it was drier.

It burned about 10 to 20 acres.

The fire may not have been reported right away because the 1,900-acre Cold Fire was just up the road. If Eric had not seen the smoke it might have gotten twice as large before anyone else called it in.

map draw cold fires
Map of the Draw and Cold Fires.

When I left at about 6:45 p.m. the Incident Commander said there was a dozer line around 98 percent of the fire.

Photos of the Cold Fire in the Black Hills

Above: The rocky ridge just west of the Cold Springs School along Flynn Creek Road.

These photos of the Cold Fire in the Black Hills of South Dakotawere taken by Bill Gabbert April 2 and 4, 2016. By April 3 the fire had burned about 1,300 acres, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest north of Hot Springs.

Much more information about the fire is in our main article.

Fire Aviation has photos and more information about the helicopters assigned to the fire.

Cold Fire
Operations Section Chief Todd Hoover being interviewed by Rapid City media.
Cold Fire
A firefighter demonstrates suppressing a fire with water.
Cold Fire
Firefighters at a dozer line just outside Wind Cave National Park on the southeast side of the Cold Fire.

Continue reading “Photos of the Cold Fire in the Black Hills”

South Dakota: Cold Fire

(Originally published at 5:21 p.m. MDT, April 2, 2016; more photos are in another article)

(UPDATE at 11 a.m. MDT, April 7, 2016)

The Incident Management Team reports that the Cold Fire south of Custer, SD has now been mapped at 1,895 acres. The Type 3 Incident Management Team transitioned to a Type 4 team led by Incident Commander, Brice Stanton Thursday morning.

Demobilization continues and many more resources will be released today. Firefighters will continue to staff and work the fire through the weekend or longer as conditions warrant.


(UPDATE at 8:23 a.m. MDT, April 6, 2016)

There is not much change in the status of the Cold Fire. More accurate mapping using a GPS receiver decreased the reported size by 0.2 percent to 1,896 acres. Even though there is a control line around the entire fire the Incident Commander is only calling it 60 percent contained.


(UPDATE at 10:07 a.m. April 5, 2016)

The Cold Fire 8 miles southeast of Custer, South Dakota remains at approximately 1,900 acres. Today firefighters will use a GPS receiver to more accurately map the perimeter to determine what they hope to become the “final” acreage.

On Monday they used an ignition device mounted in a helicopter to burn areas inside the control line. This neutralized fuels that could have flared up and caused problems today for the 195 firefighters during the very strong winds predicted at 35 to 40 mph with gusts to 50 mph. The humidity will be low, at 14 to 19 percent. There is about a 30 percent chance of rain late this afternoon and maybe even some snow tonight.

weather forecast cold fire
The hourly weather forecast for the fire area on Tuesday and Wednesday. Click on the image to see a larger version.

There are still three helicopters available at the Custer Airport, but the P2V air tanker left Rapid City Airport this morning, returning to Chattanooga after being requested for the Halls Top Fire near Edwina, Tennessee. Photos of the helicopters are at Fire Aviation.

On Monday Trevor Papenfuss, the Incident Commander Trainee said:

We still have a lot of work to do and this fire still has potential to grow. But firefighters have worked hard and have done a great job of setting themselves up for tomorrow’s forecast. The fire could have easily become much larger if it had not burned into areas that had recently been treated for fuels reduction through prescribed burning and mechanical treatment.


(UPDATE at 8 p.m. MDT, April 4, 2016)

This evening the incident management team released a pretty good map of the Cold Fire eight miles southeast of Custer, South Dakota.

Cold Fire map

There have been no major changes in the fire since our previous update this morning. The fire started April 2.


(UPDATE at 11:22 a.m. MDT, April 4, 2016)

Cold Fire
Firefighters burn out from a fire line in Wind Cave National Park on the southeast corner of the Cold Fire, April 3, 2016.

The Cold Fire eight miles southeast of Custer, South Dakota has not grown much on its own over the last 24 hours, but firefighters are burning out from roads and indirect fire lines some distance from the fire edge. While containing and controlling the fire, this tactic increases the size of the blaze which was estimated at 1,905 acres Tuesday morning — 1,258 acres on the Black Hills National Forest, 319 acres in Wind Cave National Park, and 328 acres on private land.

Approximately 200 personnel are currently assigned. This includes 44 engines, three type 2 hand crews (20 people each), two type 1 helicopters, one type 3 helicopter, 2 fixed wing aircraft, and 1 air tanker. More crews and equipment have been ordered and are enroute according to the incident management team.

The weather forecast for Monday includes a change in wind direction, with northeast winds of 5 to 10 mph shifting to come out of the south at 7 mph by 10 a.m. This could test the indirect fire lines on the north side of the fire. Forecasters are expecting 64 degrees and a 27 to 32 percent relative humidity. The Haines Index is 5, which means there is a moderate potential for large plume-dominated fire growth.

Wind watch Tuesday

Tuesday’s weather prediction is a concern, with with very strong west-northwest winds beginning in the morning and increasing in the afternoon to 25 to 35 mph with gusts near 50. The winds will continue through the night and diminish to 15 mph on Wednesday. There is a 20 percent chance of a little rain or maybe even some snow late Tuesday and Tuesday night, with higher humidities on Wednesday.

The red dots on the map below represent the most recent growth of the fire on the northwest side, due primarily to burning out from roads and fire lines. Click on the map to see a larger version.

The red and yellow dots represent the approximate location of heat detected by a satellite at 2:42 a.m. MDT, April 4, 2016. The red dots are the most recent. Click on the map to see a larger version.
The red and yellow dots represent the approximate location of heat detected by a satellite at 2:42 a.m. MDT, April 4, 2016. The red dots are the most recent. Click on the map to see a larger version.

More photos of the Cold Fire. Fire Aviation has images and information about the helicopters assigned to the fire.


(UPDATE at 8:25 p.m. MDT, April 3, 2016)

The Cold Fire 8 miles southeast of Custer, South Dakota has burned approximately 1,200 acres according to an estimate at 2 p.m. today from the Incident Management Team.

On Sunday the primary activity was establishing control lines by using fire to remove fuels. Firefighters used hand-held drip torches and an ATV-mounted firing device to ignite the vegetation. On the east side they eliminated grass adjacent to a dozer-constructed fire line. In the portion of the fire in Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, firefighters worked along a two-track road that is not open to the public.

burning out fire line
Firefighters on the Cold Fire observe as they use fire to remove vegetation along a planned fire line Sunday afternoon.

At least 1.5 miles of the fire perimeter are contained along Highway 87, Rankin Ridge Road, and Flynn Creek Road, but the Incident Commander, Matt Spring, is calling the fire zero percent contained.

Copies of the map below were issued to firefighters Sunday morning. We added the white labels for some of the landmarks. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Cold Fire map 4-2-2016
Map of the Cold Fire. Data from April 2, 2016.

One of the two large air tankers that were ordered Saturday arrived at Rapid City Regional Airport Sunday at about 3 p.m. The P2V was not used, in part because the winds were too strong and turbulent. Two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters dropped water Sunday morning. Three privately owned contracted helicopters were available at the Custer Airport: one K-MAX, one Chinook, and a Bell 204L4, but only the 204L4 was used. It dropped numerous loads of water Sunday afternoon while we were there.

Bell 204L4 K-MAX helicopter
A Bell 204L4 (top) landing with a water bucket at Custer Airport Sunday afternoon. The helicopter on the ground in the background (with the fancy paint job) is the K-MAX.

Continue reading “South Dakota: Cold Fire”