Fire continues to plague Crook County

By Sarah Pridgeon

Though the Douglas Road and Kara Creek fires have succumbed to the efforts of firefighting crews after reaching a combined total over 14,000 acres, the recent sporadic rain has only marginally reduced the risk of new incidents. Over the last week, local fire crews have dealt with at least five fires throughout the county, according to Interim Fire Warden Jeff Garman.

The first of these took place on Wednesday evening, just to the west of the Douglas Road fire zone. It reached around two acres in size but had been contained by the morning under Incident Commander Rusty Williamson.

The cause of the fire was placed under investigation the same day because there was reason to believe it may have been human-caused, says Garman.

“They couldn’t definitively prove anything,” he says, stating that the investigation is ongoing.

On Saturday, a ten-acre fire sprang up near the Missouri Buttes in the Devils Tower area. Dubbed the Buttes Fire, it was contained under Incident Commander Jason Perry by midnight, with mop-up taking place the next day.

“They had that at 100 percent containment on Saturday night and I think they’re pretty much done up there with that one,” says Melanie Wilmer, Emergency Management Coordinator.

Two other fires were fought the same day, though both were small and brought under control quickly. An additional incident took place near Limestone Pit Road in Sundance, with a potential fire reported quickly and addressed before it could properly ignite.

“It was small and smoldering, they kept an eye and did mop-up right away so it never grew into anything,” says Wilmer.

On Sunday, a fire was reported on the Belle Fourche River, a little west of Colony.

“They got a handle on it and it was a relatively small fire,” says Garman. “They were also looking for one on Lytle Creek that they never found.”

The Crow Peak fire just over the border near Spearfish reached 100 percent containment on Tuesday, with no structures lost. Around 536 personnel were on scene at the height of the efforts to bring the 2724-acre fire under control.

By Tuesday, 170 personnel remained to patrol and mop up hot spots along the control lines. Officials warn that some isolated, unburned pockets of fuel remain within the lines, so smoke may continue to be visible for the next few weeks as these pockets burn.

Meanwhile, though the Kara Creek fire was fully contained on June 29 and turned over to Type 4 Incident Commander Nate Butler, efforts continued until the weekend at the Kara Creek and Douglas Road fires.

“This fire had the potential to be much more devastating than it was. I am proud of the hard work all of the men and women on this multi-agency team have put forward,” said Incident Commander Dick Terry as the fire was brought under control.

Firefighters from around the state as well as from South Dakota and Colorado stayed for several days after the containment notice was issued.

“They left on Saturday, but we still had crews out at Kara Creek doing mop-up,” says Wilmer. “It was a big fire, it needed a lot of mop-up.”

The official count is that one home and garage and one abandoned structure were lost during the Kara Creek fire and one shop during the Douglas fire. Wilmer remains grateful to the community for its support, which kept the crews fed and watered throughout.

“The outpouring from the community was fantastic – they really went above and beyond to help,” she says, noting that there are still supplies in storage from the many donations.

“Now, if we need anything for the rest of the summer, we have a good stockpile.”

Over the holiday weekend, according to Sheriff Jeff Hodge, two burn ban violations resulted in citations, one for fireworks and the other for burning.