Black Hills area has been through this before: A look at past fires Original

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — A fire near Rapid City is likely threatening some of the same public and private land and property that was threatened more than 30 years ago.

The July 1988 fire was called the Nemo Fire by various news media. In research and federal information, it is called the Westberry Trails fire.

The 1988 Westberry Trails fire burned homes and forced large evacuations near Rapid City.

Neighborhoods, roads and public areas mentioned in this week’s fire, called the Schroeder Fire, are similar to the 1988 fire. Nemo Road, Westberry Trail and Cleghorn Canyon are just three.

KELOLAND News stories described how shifting winds helped some land and private property but also caused challenges in Cleghorn Canyon. Steve Boyd of KELOLAND News, reported on July 28, 1988, winds made Cleghorn Canyon difficult.

The wind was not strong enough to prevent helicopters and other aircraft from being used to fight the fire. Material and water were dropped from the sky on the fire.

Perry Groten of KELOLAND News said in a July 29,1988, report the blaze was 90% contained.

Groten was reporting from Westberry Trails subdivision, just off Nemo Road. The subdivision was the command area for firefighters so the residents were evacuated, Groten said.

Where the skies were once filled with dark smoke just the day before, “Skies are actually quite blue,” Groten said. A total of 2,000 people evacuated and 125 people could not yet return home, Groten said.

On July 30, 1988, Boyd reported that the fire was contained as State Highway 44 was opened to through traffic. Boyd reported 100 homes were saved.

A total of 1,109 individuals were involved in firefighting at a cost of $1.1 million, Boyd said.

The 1988 fire destroyed 15 homes, 45 outbuildings, 40 vehicles and one bridge. In total, it burned 4,778 acres, according to officials. It caused an estimated $4.2 million in damage, which was the estimated at the time.

Authorities said the Westberry Trail fire was an arson fire.

Jasper Fire

An arsonist also caused another major fire in 2000.

The Jasper fire burned a total of 83,508 acres in the southern Black Hills and about 90% of the land area of Jewel Cave National Monument, according to the National Park Service.

The fire was reported on Aug. 24, 2000. An estimated 48,000 acres burned in a single day, on Aug. 26, according to Esri’s ArcNews online. Esri is a geographic software company.

A 2021 fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial covered about 90 acres by late morning on March 30, according to the National Park Service. As of noon on March 30, KELOLAND News’ Dan Santella reported that 15 structures were threatened.

Firefighters saved the structures at Jewell Cave during the 2000 Jasper Fire, according to the NPS.

“People were confused, scared, I know a lot of people were throwing belongings into their cars and taking pictures of their homes for insurance purposes,” Custer resident Jenny Behlings said in an April 4, 2013, KELOLAND News story.

In early 2013, the Forest Service announced a 10-year plan that will use a series of prescribed burns to clean up more than 16,000 acres as a part of a fire prevention plan, the April 4, 2013, KELOLAND News story said.

99 wildfires a year

Fires in the Black Hills area not uncommon.

There have been an average of 99 wildfires per year that have burned 7,902 acres per year in the Black Hills National Forest in the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Most of those fires are caused by lighting (75%), according to the U.S. Forest Service. The remainder are caused by humans.

1959 Deadwood Fire

In September 1959, the Deadwood fire, which almost burned down the City of Deadwood and caused severe damage within the city itself, was determined to be caused by the improper use of a burn barrel, according to the South Dakota Wildland Fire.

The fire led to stronger state laws on fire prevention in the Black Hills Forest Fire Protection District, the state unit said. The Deadwood fire was also the first time heavy air tankers and helicopters in fire operations were used extensively in South Dakota.

Argyle Fire

When 1974 arrived, it brought with it lots of fires in the Black Hills area.

On June 19 and 20, storms combined with dry conditions started more than 100 fires in state and federal land. A report on the Argyle Fire Phenomena from the July 6-17, 1974, fires said the largest fire on June 19 and 20 was the Pilger Mountain Fire, which burned 1,782 acres.

On July 6, 1974, lightening fires started on land throughout the Black Hills area. Dry conditions fueled the fires.

The largest fire was the Argyle Fire.

The Argyle report said it was the worst fire in several decades. It destroyed at least 3,318 acres of timberland and 1,422 acres of range land.

2000-2007 multiple fires

In what may be the worst streak of fires in the state’s history, at least nine fires were recorded in western South Dakota or eastern Wyoming from 2000 to 2007.

For example, the Battle Creek fire in the central Black Hills became a national priority fire in August of 2002. The fire burned at least 13,000 acres.

The Grizzly Gulch fire of 2002 burned near Deadwood. It started along South Dakota Highway 385 and burned about 11,500 acres. The Black Hills Pioneer said Lawrence County evacuated residents of Grizzly Gulch and a nearby trailer park.

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