Black Hills Schroeder and Keystone wildfires grow on Tuesday
Sustained winds of up to 24 mph and very low relative humidity are contributing to the spread of the wildfire in western South Dakota.
RAPID CITY — The Schroeder wildfire burning near Rapid City, S.D., has grown to 1,900 acres and is still uncontained as local, state and federal emergency crews continue to battle the blaze that has closed roads, destroyed structures and forced evacuations.
Officials reported Tuesday morning, March 30, that the overnight crews working to fight the fire continued to provide structure protection and monitor the fire, which has been more demanding than anticipated due to rapidly changing weather conditions and strong gusts of wind. Wind gusts of up to 80 mph were reported Monday, and sustained winds of up to 24 mph were expected in the Rapid City area Tuesday. Very low relative humidity also contributed to the spread of the wildfire.
Overnight, the Schroeder fire crossed into the Cleghorn Canyon and Nameless Cave areas, where an effort to save a structure was unsuccessful.
About 500 people were evacuated from the area as of Monday and those efforts continued through the night, though no estimate on the total number of people evacuated was not available late Tuesday morning. Areas evacuated due to the fire included Cleghorn Canyon, Nameless Cave Road, Cavern Road, Pinedale Heights, Dark Canyon, Magic Canyon, Blake Road and Camp Mniluzahan.
Officials are not advising any other evacuations at this time, and as of Tuesday afternoon had begun sending residents from along Cavern Road back to their homes. There have been no reports of fatalities or injuries, but one home, a number of outbuildings and the deck of a residence burned, according to reports.
The fire has also forced the blocking of numerous roads, including Highway 44 at Chapel Lane, Highway 44 at Johnson Siding Fire Station No. 2, Red Dale at National Guard Way, Pine Dale Ridge at South Berry Pine Road and Westbury Hill Road at Nemo Road. The Pennington County Sheriff's Office is asking people to avoid traveling on roads in the vicinity of the fire for their own safety and the safety of those fighting the fire.
There is no timeline set for when those roads may reopen, though the closures were expected to continue through Tuesday night.
“We do not have an expected time when these roads may get opened. We will continue to work with the Wildland Fire incident command and provide updates when those become available, Lt. Taylor Sperle, with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, said in an update provided through the department Facebook page.
The Schroeder fire, the largest of the multiple wildfires in the areas, is threatening homes on the outskirts and within the city limits of Rapid City. The fire allegedly started just west of the city among one of the many small housing developments nestled among the outer edges of the Black Hills and headed east before moving south.
The latest reports put the fire at 1 mile west of Rapid City, and that the blaze was human-caused, though no further details have been released. About 250 personnel or on scene in an effort to contain the fire. A Type 2 Incident Management Team has been ordered to the area and is expected to take over the fire at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Other smaller fires in the Black Hills include a fire in the Keystone area that shut down Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
The Keystone Fire began at about 10:30 a.m. Monday inside the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It was initially driven by extremely high wind gusts of 50 mph. The winds, combined with the very low relative humidity, caused conditions that were favorable to fanning the flames.
"Those are two really powerful factors for growth and fire spread," said Travis Bushman, public information officer for the National Forrest Service incident command. "The cause is under investigation at this time."
Investigators will be looking closely at the cause of the fire, he said.
"We treat every sort of fire as a crime scene until we're sure what caused it," Bushman said.
The fire as of Tuesday morning was reported to be about 90 acres in size, which is up from about 75 acres the previous night. There are currently about 100 firefighters on the scene, but the fire is not contained at this time. Bushman said that that should not be taken as an indicator that the fire is completely out of control.
"It does not mean the fire is growing by leaps and bounds. When we say we have containment, we're 99.99% sure. We're pretty conservative about saying that we have containment. Just because we say we have 0% containment doesn't mean it's racing down the hill," Bushman said.
Bushman also said the fire currently moving toward very steep and rugged terrain away from the road system.
With it still being the off-season for wildfires, it has been tricky getting some crews together to help with the emergency.
"Being early in the fire season, it's a little more hard to come by hand crews," Bushman said.
There are currently about 15 structures being threatened by the fire, including park employee housing, administrative facilities and a couple of private residences. The main visitor area at Mount Rushmore National Memorial is not currently under threat, Bushman said.
There have not yet been any reported injuries as a result of the fire.
"It's been a safe incident," Bushman said.
Forum News Service reporter Christopher Vondracek contributed to this report.