The Crow Peak Fire is scorching the forest just four miles west of Spearfish. And to residents, it seems even closer.
LATEST: Crow Peak Fire Updates
The morning coffee crew at McDonald’s not far from downtown Spearfish keeps track of the fire out the windows of the business.
“We can sit right here at McDonald’s and look right up there and see all the smoke and so on,” says city resident Lee Iverson. “And it’s a good thing it’s blowing that way or we couldn’t see, because the smoke would be right here in town.”
Iverson said people “all over town have been watching it. You can see it from just about everywhere.”
The clouds of smoke rise from Crow Peak, where steep, rugged terrain makes the blaze difficult to battle on foot. So the firefighting focus so far has been from the air.
Small and large air tankers are traveling to and from the fire, where they dump reddish-orange fire retardant on key areas. Helicopters – some trailer exterior buckets and others with interior water tanks – make their hits on the fire.
That action isn’t missed by the spectators in town, or in their residents along the edges of Spearfish.
“I live at the airport and I’m really fascinated by the helicopters,” says Bev Evenson. “Those boys are really working hard, with those big buckets on there. It made me wonder if one is going to drop on me.”
Pilots take care to prevent that, while slowing the growth of the fire to help protect rural residences.
“Right now we’re doing structure protection and making sure the fire doesn’t come down off the hill and threaten any of the structures in the area,” said fire daytime operations manager Robert Cota.
Cota said the fire — which ignited with a lightning strike early Friday evening – is contained in rough U.S. Forest Service ground and is moving relatively slowly. So there is no rush to attack it on foot.
“We just didn’t feel the need yesterday,” Cota said Sunday. “But as we get more resources in we’re going to re-evaluate that, and where we can we will. We definitely want to keep the fire as small as we can, safely, providing for firefighters safety and the public’s safety. So that’s what we’re focused on right now.
The ground game is picking up, however, with the arrival of new firefighters. The overall personnel total on the fire grew to 100 Sunday. Those coming in included a specially trained and equipped experienced in rough country work. Those so-called hotshot crews are often the point of attack on foot, although their initial work is to help construct and secure fire lines.
“We have one hotshot crew that just came in this morning, and they’re engaging helping reinforce dozer lines,” Cota said. “And we had a second hand crew that came in this morning, and they’re also engaged, reinforcing some roads and also looking at some dozer lines.”
With a dry forecast until at least Tuesday, there’s plenty of firefighting to do. And Sunday evening, the fire was still far from being contained.
Early Sunday morning, fire officials were estimating the blaze area at 400 acres. But with better visibility and GPS help, they reduced that estimate to 313 acres Sunday evening.
Monday morning update:
According to the website for the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday the fire measured 313 acres, with none of it contained. Further updates are expected.