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September 03, 2012 06:00 PM

Preparation Pays Off In Fire Fight On Reservation

Pine Ridge, SD

Over the weekend, a prairie fire that started in northwestern Nebraska moved onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Wellnitz Fire has burned more than 77,000 acres across two states and is 27 percent contained.

At this time, crews in Pine Ridge are in mop-up mode. But many are saying the planning and coordination that took place before the blaze crossed the border onto the reservation, kept this fire from becoming much worse.

On Friday evening, the Wellnitz Fire moved onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from Nebraska, forcing more than 40 local fire crews into action.

"We knew that fire was going north towards the village of Oglala, so we had early enough warning to do pre-evacuations and evacuations in some areas," OST emergency manager Wayne Weston said.

"The mass effort to move those people was incredible. The fire was just right upon them and they were driving people through those lines," OST public relations coordinator Donna Salomon said.

Hundreds of homes and around 2,000 people were in the path of the fire. But due to the quick response of emergency crews, no injuries have been reported and just two homes were lost.

"They came out and they protected those homes," Weston said.

Even people from off the reservation came in to offer support.

"They had brought in the horse trailers and they were on standby to move livestock or horses or whatever it was that we needed them to do," Salomon said.

On Monday morning, a Type 2 incident management team took control of operations on Pine Ridge.

"Fortunately, everybody did all the hard work before we got here, so that's real easy.  And they did a great job, a real great job," Type 2 incident commander Todd Richardson said.

"I thought it was fairly well organized from the get-go. Once it hit the reservation we were ready for it," Weston said.

The Type 2 team anticipates operations will be released back to local authorities by Wednesday.  This fire is the fifth natural disaster to strike the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation since June.

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