Wildfires Char Black Hills - Crews Gain Despite Challenges
Dakota Digest - 06/28/2012
Firefighters report significant progress on both of the large files burning in the Black Hills. The Dakota Fire near Sheridan Lake is at about 30-percent containment. Meanwhile crews continue to make real progress on the Crow Peak Fire near Spearfish - it's now in mop-up phase. SDPB's Charles Michael Ray took a tour of the Dakota Fire area and spoke with those on the ground about the availability of resources with so many other fires out of control across the west.
When you think of wildfire, a big body of water like Sheridan Lake might not be the first place to come to mind But the hills above Sheridan Lake are on fire, even as the lakes big plastic docks bob up and down in the small waves below. While the lake is now closed to boating, a few poeple remain camped on the far shore, where kids and dogs play in the water off the South Boat Ramp. The Dakota Fire started right on the edge of the lake and burned uphill into the timber on the steep slopes that jut out of the water. The cause is still under investigation. But, even with all the water in it lake--didn't make for any less work for crews battling the flames.
"Some of my staff got off the line this morning after 26 hours straight on the fire," says Dave Slepnikoff the local district ranger with the Forest Service. "And that's uncommon in our normal forest anymore to do that most of them are out there 12 hours 16 hours and then they come home and rest and they go back out again but being on the fire yesterday afternoon, all night and up until this morning tires you our pretty fast," adds Slepnikoff.
Crews here note that one of the challenges in fighting fires in the Black Hills right now is there are fewer resources than normal. The state's top firefighters aren't here. Instead they're spread across Colorado, Wyoming and other western States battling the huge fires there. In the Black Hills local crews are fighting two fires at once. Slepnikoff says the limited resources on a national level right now is posing some extra challenges. Jared Hone is the Type three Incident Commander on the Dakota Fire. He says crews have what they need to keep up this fight, but then adds that he doesn't have everything on hand he'd like.
"We have a lot of outstanding orders that we're trying to work on, it would be nice to have a couple more resources but with the things we have right now we're doing the best we can with the resources we have," says Hone.
There is one of firefighting resource you won't hear over the Black Hills right now. The large slurry bomber. The planes have proven vital in fighting fires in the Black Hills including the 2002 Grizzly Gulch Fire that forced the evecuation of Deadwood and parts of lead. Back then, the Forest Service had about 44 heavy air tankers in its fleet--today the Interagency Fire Center in Boise Idaho says there are around 15. Right now most of them are fighting the fires in the in heavily populated areas of Colorado. District Ranger Dave Slepnikoff became a wild land firefighter in 1972. He remembers the long grueling hours digging fire line in the dirt by hand and the sound of a heavy tanker coming in to provide support.
"Boy it sure is nice to see those guys fly over the when you're on that line and looking up and thinking boy is it nice to have that retardant or water coming down on this fire because it's a B-you-know-what to get that line put in," says Slepnikoff.
While crews keep digging lines they say at least the Helicopters helping fight the Dakota Fire at Sheridan lake don't have far to go to scoop up water, and in the case of this particular fire heavy air tankers wouldn't wouldn't work because the slurry can kill fish. Despite the lack of tankers and the thinner than normal resources here Slepnikoff says crews are holding the lines and keeping local houses safe.
"I'm ecstatic as being the ranger that we don't have a problem with all the structures around. I just had a friend in Colorado Springs loose their apartment to a fire, and it just really gets tough you know to hear about people loosing things and up here we're so lucky that they were able to catch it before it went down Spring Creek or came up here and went up into Blue Wing because we have about 75 homes up here," says Slepnikoff.
Those fighting this fire say they're pleased a type two team is coming up from Denver and taking over management of the fire. They say this will bring more resources to bear on this incident. Including the Tatanka Hot Shots. They're a group of South Dakota's own elite Type One Firefighters, and on their way home to help battle the Dakota Fire after beign called off bigger fires out west.
On a national scale typically there is about 1-point-four billion dollars allocated by congress to help put out wildfires. But forest service officials note that this year congress allocated 500-million dollars less than in years past. So It's likely there won't be enough federal funding for firefighters to make it through the season, and those dollars will have to come from elsewhere. After all it's still June the hottest part of the fire season hasn't yet begun.
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