The Rapid City office of the National Weather Service acquired these satellites photos of the Schroeder Fire which has burned 2,195 acres just west of their city.
Here is how they described the photos in a Tweet Thursday evening:
“Sentinel-2 satellite views of Schroeder Fire on Mar. 29 (when it started) and today (Apr. 1). The red hot spots are not apparent today, and the reddish-brown area shows the extent of the fire. White = clouds in first image (black = shadows). Green = vegetation.”
The Schroeder Fire at Rapid City has burned 2,165 acres
Updated 8:01 a.m. MDT April 1, 2021
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
Firefighters have made progress on the three wildfires in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
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.
Most of the Schroeder Fire has burned in the footprint of the Westberry Trails Fire of 1988.
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.
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.
This article was first published at FireAviation.com
4:44 p.m. MDT, March 30, 2021
On Tuesday, the day after the 1,900-acre Schroder Fire broke out just west of Rapid City, South Dakota, two large air tankers were relocated to the tanker base at the airport.
Tanker 105, an MD-87, flew in from New Mexico, and Tanker 167, an RJ85 arrived from Minnesota.
Each of the tankers had made at least two drops on the fire as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.
Other aircraft working the fire today include a fixed wing aerial supervision module, two National Guard Helicopters, and a PC12 intelligence gathering aircraft owned and operated by the state of Colorado.
Fire officials said Tuesday afternoon there were no additional closures or evacuations, and residents along Cavern Road could return to their homes. Since Highway 44 is still closed from Rapid City, the local residents will need to access the area from Johnson Siding.
With some active fire still in the area, there is an expectation that the current road and neighborhood closures will continue through Tuesday night.
There has been no update on the size of the fire since it was mapped at 1,900 acres Monday evening.
The number of destroyed homes remains at one, and that resident on Blue Sky Road has been notified. At least two outbuildings have burned, as well as a deck on a residence.
The elevated fire danger and the passage of the cold front with 50 mph+ winds which caused the fire to spread very rapidly was predicted two days before the fire started on Monday.
The wind was too strong for any aircraft to be used safely or effectively Monday, so if the aircraft had been proactively prepositioned on Sunday they probably would have been grounded on Monday when the fire was reported that morning. One person we talked to on Tuesday who was not authorized to speak for the firefighting agencies about the air tankers said, “Yesterday the winds were too high. No one wanted to come to South Dakota.” However there was a report that a National Guard Blackhawk based in Rapid City made some marginally effective drops late in the day on Monday after the wind speeds decreased.
If you are a weather geek, you will be fascinated by the data captured as the cold front moved into the Schroeder Fire area on Monday, March 29. The fire was reported at 9:22 a.m. MDT Monday.
In a late night update fire officials said one home and two outbuildings are confirmed to have been destroyed by the Schroeder Fire west of Rapid City, SD.
Firefighters are working during the night in the Cleghorn Canyon, Nameless Cave, and Blessed Sacrament Church areas where they are patrolling and securing structures, in addition to the rest of the fire perimeter.
Updated at 9:22 p.m. MDT March 29, 2021
The Schroeder Fire just west of Rapid City, South Dakota was mapped at 1,905 acres at about 7:30 p.m. MDT March 29.
Fire officials said the blaze was reported Monday at 9:22 a.m. in the Schroeder Road subdivision, skipped across the canyon into the Westberry Trials subdivision and the footprint of the Westberry Trails Fire of 1988 .
A cold front with very strong winds came through around noon and pushed the fire south into the neighborhoods of Cleghorn Canyon, Nameless Cave, and Pinedale Heights.
Incident Commander Rob Powell said Monday afternoon that he was optimistic that they can keep the Schroeder Fire from crossing Highway 44.
The fire is human-caused and still under investigation, but that simply means it was not caused by lightning. Firefighters will staff the fire overnight. Suppression of the fire is a state responsibility, rather than federal.
“We are at record-dry conditions along with high winds playing a major factor in this fight,” said Jay Esperance, Division Director for South Dakota Wildland Fire.
Helicopters and a fixed wing air tanker have been ordered and will be used as needed when weather conditions allow. They can’t be used safely or effectively during strong winds, but a National Guard helicopter was used Monday afternoon after the wind speeds decreased. The Rapid City Air Tanker Base has been activated.
Originally published at 7:25 p.m. MDT March 29, 2021.
At least three wildfires broke out Monday in the Black Hills of South Dakota. (see the map above)
The largest is the Schroeder Fire just west of Rapid City. Heat detected by a satellite at 2:36 p.m. MDT on Monday showed it to be at least 1,000 acres and primarily between Highway 44 and South Canyon Road. Evacuations are in effect. Officials said between 400 and 500 homes have been evacuated in Rapid City and one home and two outbuildings have been destroyed. A map showing evacuation areas is available at the Pennington County website. Suppression of the fire is a state responsibility, rather than federal.
At 2:36 p.m. Monday, another fire, the 244 Fire, was less than a mile northeast of Mount Rushmore National Memorial and about a mile southwest of Keystone. It has burned 75 to 100 acres and the Memorial is closed. Suppression of the fire is a federal responsibility, rather than state.
A third blaze, the 15-acre Keystone Fire, is about 1.5 miles south of Keystone. It is being suppressed by the state.
Highway 244 is closed at the west boundary of the Memorial, and the Highway 16A entrance is closed at the Keystone and Iron Mountain Boundary.
The fires were driven by low humidity and very strong winds out of the west at 18 to 35 mph. Gusts above 50 mph were recorded at the weather station at Mount Rushmore.
We will update this article as more information becomes available.
“Potential risks to the park itself and to the health and safety of employees and visitors associated with the fireworks demonstration continue to be a concern and are still being evaluated as a result of the 2020 event,” said the National Park Service.
The National Park Service has denied a request from the State of South Dakota to hold a July 4 fireworks display at Mount Rushmore this year.
Last year under pressure from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and former President Trump, fireworks were shot from the heads of the four presidents on the sculpture for the first time since 2009. In the interim they had been banned for having started 27 fires, left carcinogens in the water, and the trash dropped by the exploding shells onto the Monument and the forest can never be completely picked up. Fireworks were exploded over the sculpture and the Ponderosa pine forest 11 times between 1998 and 2009.
NPS Regional Director Herbert Frost wrote in a letter to the head of the state’s tourism department, first reported by The Hill Friday, that the NPS is “unable to grant a request to have fireworks at the Memorial.”
“Potential risks to the park itself and to the health and safety of employees and visitors associated with the fireworks demonstration continue to be a concern and are still being evaluated as a result of the 2020 event,” Frost wrote. “In addition, the park’s many tribal partners expressly oppose fireworks at the Memorial.”
“These factors, compiled with the COVID-19 pandemic, do not allow a safe and responsible fireworks display to be held at this site,” he added.
Frost noted that although progress is being made in fighting the pandemic, the situation is still “dynamic” and said it is “only prudent to make plans based on the best available science and public health guidance available today.”
In a joint statement, three members of Congress, Representative Dusty Johnson, Senator John Thune, and Senator Mike Rounds said,
Let’s be clear, this decision is political, not evidence-based. President Biden just said himself that Americans can safely gather by July 4 – what’s changed in a day? Last year millions watched the celebration in awe, and it’s a shame the administration is denying Americans that opportunity this year.
Because here’s the point, if we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.
According to Johns Hopkins University, of all the U.S. states, as of March 14, 2021 South Dakota has the third-highest number of positive COVID-19 cases per capita, and the sixth-lowest rate of testing per capita. The state has never implemented a mask mandate.
Four days before the fireworks celebration in 2020, a local wildfire update reported that multiple fires had affected nearly 16,000 acres in the Black Hills, near Mount Rushmore. But wildfire experts’ objections to the 2020 celebration went unheeded.
“Burning debris, the burning embers and unexploded shells fall into a ponderosa pine forest and ponderosa pine is extremely flammable,” Bill Gabbert, former fire management officer for Mount Rushmore, told the Argus Leader last year. “Shooting fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest, or any flammable vegetation, is ill advised and should not be done. Period.”
In a break from what had been the standard practice for decades, when the Mine Draw Fire broke out six miles from Mount Rushmore just days before the fireworks were exploded in 2020, Governor Kristi Noem’s office took control of all official information about the fire, shutting down the fire professionals who had always provided information to the public and the media as part of their regular jobs.
The blaze was driven by winds gusting above 30 mph
Firefighters from multiple counties stopped a fire east of the Black Hills in South Dakota Saturday after it had burned 2,000 to 3,000 acres during Red Flag Warning conditions.
The fire was approximately 9 miles east of Fairburn on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland.
“The majority of fire was in a wilderness study area, which complicated suppression efforts,” said Jim Strain, Assistant Chief of the Fairburn Volunteer Fire Department.
Saturday afternoon the wind was blasting, with sustained speeds of 15 to 25 mph with gusts above 30 mph while the relative humidity was in the high teens and the temperature in the high 60s — difficult conditions for firefighters. After dark the wind slowed, 5 to 10 mph but with occasional gusts of 15 to 25 mph. Sunday afternoon it increased to 15 mph and 25 mph gusts, along with 27 percent relative humidity.