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Lightning Causes Multiple Fires In Black Hills

July 18, 2012, 6:05 PM by Derek Olson

Lightning Causes Multiple Fires In Black Hills
CUSTER STATE PARK, SD -

A flurry of lightning-caused wildfires are keeping crews in western South Dakota busy.

From the Mount Coolidge lookout tower you can see the smoky haze resting in the Black Hills.  Some of it is from the Switch Back Draw Fire, burning on 40 acres just two miles east of the mountain.

"It started yesterday and it's in a bit of rugged terrain," incident commander trainee Chris Zoller said.

Crews were working on strengthening their line around the fire Tuesday night when a thunderstorm moved into the area.

"It was helpful in moderating the fire behavior.  However, it put off the job that they were trying to do as far as burning out the fuels between the fire line and the fire," Zoller said.

Tuesday night's storm brought rain to much of the Black Hills but crews aren't resting easy.  That's because the storm also brought close to 2,500 lightning strikes.

"With that much lightning we'll get two or three days of hold over fire where the lightning is still burning undetectable and they pop up two or three days later. I've seen them as much as 14 days later," Zoller said.

In fact, fire dispatch says they've sent resources to around 25 incidents in the last 48 hours, most of which were started by lightning.

"Knowing that we're in high fire danger we've actually pre-positioned many resources here in the Black Hills," fire information officer Mike Johnson said.

The dispatch center works to help manage those resources and direct them to where they're needed.

"What we do at the dispatch center is put the closest resources on those fires when they're reported to us.  If they're able to get it knocked down they're released from that fire and move on to the next one," Johnson said.

"With the hotter temperatures and the drier weather coming the next three-days we're going to be expecting to see more initial attacks," Zoller said.

In the meantime, several hiking trails are closed at Custer State Park and fishing and swimming is not allowed on Legion Lake while the firefight is on.

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