1. #1
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    Post Black Hills of South Dakota

    KEYSTONE, S.D. (AP) - A fire in South Dakota's Black Hills has
    engulfed about 6,600 acres, or more than 10 square miles in steep
    terrain south of Rapid City, fire officials said Sunday.
    Joe Wood, manager of the firefighting effort, told the crews on
    the night shift Sunday that the Battle Creek Fire has been made the
    top firefighting priority in the nation.
    Equipment, supplies and crews have been brought in quickly
    because the fire has been moved up the priority list, and it's
    taking a while to get everything organized, Wood said.
    He said he hoped firefighters would make good progress Sunday
    night. "Night work is very valuable. The fire dies down," he
    said.
    The fire, about two miles north of Keystone, was most active on
    its southwest side, said Rick Hudson, a fire information officer.
    That's where firefighters planned to concentrate their efforts
    Sunday night, he said.
    Another fire official said winds in the fire zone gusted to 45
    mph Sunday but died down at dusk. The high winds caused concern for
    firefighters, officials said, but air tankers and helicopters
    continued to drop slurry and water throughout the day.
    Winds reportedly caused the blaze to start spotting, or jumping
    up to miles ahead because of the wind.
    Joe Harbach, another fire official, said crews made good
    progress Sunday but that the fire was more than the initial team of
    state, local and federal firefighters could handle. That team was
    the first level of defense.
    "Although we got our butts kicked for two or three days, we
    feel pretty happy with the way things are looking tonight," he
    said Sunday.
    Harbach said a top-level fire management team was called in
    right away. "We ordered these folks early. We knew the fire was
    going to go big, and the complexity level far exceeded our
    capabilities."
    The Y-shaped blaze stretched more than five miles from near
    Rockerville, southeast past Rushmore Cave and with a mile-wide
    finger running north to Pine Grove School. The fire is about four
    miles north of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
    Fire officials said they had no estimate of when the blaze would
    be contained or how much of the fire has a line around it.
    The communities of Hayward and Rockerville were evacuated and
    Keystone-area residents were put on alert Sunday morning.
    Two summer cabins and one home have burned and hundreds more
    buildings in the area are threatened, according to Forest Service
    officials.
    Gov. Bill Janklow said he was frustrated by the way the Forest
    Service handled the fire.
    "I'm drawing a line in the sand and will not allow South Dakota
    to be destroyed one fire at a time," he said.
    Janklow said the state is putting forth every resource it has to
    fight the fire.
    "I'm sick and tired of looking into the eyes of South Dakotans
    who have had to run for their lives," he said.
    National Guard bulldozers cut a 4-mile line around Keystone
    Saturday night, but it was uncertain whether the line would hold
    because of strong winds and spotting.
    Janklow met with federal officials Sunday afternoon to discuss
    the evacuation of Keystone.
    An emergency shelter was set up at the South Dakota School of
    Mines and Technology in Rapid City.
    About 600 people, including local volunteer firefighters and
    other firefighters from as far away as Sioux Falls, were on scene.
    Janklow said a large part of the frustration came when
    firefighters found large boulders blocking fire trails. Janklow
    said the boulders were put there by the Forest Service and that he
    ordered the National Guard to remove them.
    Late Friday, the fire was upgraded to a Type I fire, the most
    serious type of fire in the forest. An interagency team is managing
    the fire. Federal officials planned to take over management of the
    fire Sunday evening.
    The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a grant Sunday
    morning to reimburse 75 percent of the state and local costs of
    fighting the fire.
    The blaze started Friday night near the Black Hills Children's
    Home, south of Rockerville. The cause is still under investigation.


    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
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    Post Update

    ROCKERVILLE, S.D. (AP) - The Battle Creek Fire jumped across
    Highway 16 about 3 miles south of here Monday afternoon and has
    become very dangerous, Gov. Bill Janklow said.
    "I don't know where it's going. We didn't think it would go
    here," Janklow said while surveying the fire up close. "It's
    unbelievable the fury of that thing."
    By early evening the fire was half a mile beyond Highway 16.
    Flames on a mountain top could be seen from 10 miles away at the
    fire camp.
    The quick spread of the fire prompted the evacuation of
    Rockerville, the nearby Cosmos area, Eagle Mountain and the Storm
    Mountain subdivision.
    The blaze, which began Friday, had engulfed more than 8,600
    acres by Monday afternoon, or more than 13 square miles in steep
    terrain south of Rapid City.
    The fire was burning in the direction of Sheridan Lake, which is
    a heavily wooded area that contains scattered homes.
    "This is more dangerous than the Jasper Fire because there's
    houses everyplace. There's people everyplace," Janklow said,
    adding that he believed some homes would be destroyed Monday night.
    The Jasper Fire, which burned two years ago in the Custer area,
    was the largest wildfire in the recorded history of the Black
    Hills. It burned 130 square miles of forest.
    Three homes have been lost in the Battle Creek Fire. One
    official said 40 dogs perished in two of those homes. He said the
    dogs were castoffs that were crippled or blind, and they were being
    cared for by a Pennington County couple.
    The governor was angry and frustrated over the spread of the
    current fire on Monday. Very strong winds fanned the flames in the
    late afternoon and were expected to continue throughout the night.
    Janklow was initially perturbed with what he considered a lack
    of quick response by some of those first in charge of managing the
    fire. But he said there was little firefighters could do Monday to
    stop the advancing flames from crossing Highway 16, a major tourist
    route to Mount Rushmore.
    "I think they're doing all they can do," he said of the
    firefighters. "This thing just blew up."
    Janklow called out every National Guard bulldozer available to
    stop the northerly spread of the fire, and a furious air attack
    also focused on the area near Highway 16.
    Among those forced from their home by the fire were Hank and
    Nancy Jondahl, who live about 4 miles east of Keystone. The
    couple's camper was being worked on in Rapid City, and they moved
    into it Sunday night.
    "It's nerve-racking," Nancy Jondahl said.
    The couple were working Monday as volunteers for the Salvation
    Army at the fire camp, north of Rockerville.
    "We figured if the firefighters saved our house, we could at
    least hand out water here and help wherever we can," Nancy Jondahl
    said while watching the distant smoke.
    Joe Wood, manager of the firefighting effort, told crews
    preparing for the night shift that they would have their hands
    full. Wood said he has asked for additional resources, but so many
    fires are burning in the West that it may be a day or two before
    more help arrives.
    "It's gonna be slim pickings," he said. "There's just not a
    lot out there."
    Wood said a cold front and northerly winds were expected Tuesday
    evening, which would turn the blaze in the direction of Keystone
    and Custer State Park.
    Bob Thompson, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said
    the gusty winds Monday afternoon and evening were not expected, and
    the rapidly spreading blaze was becoming unpredictable.
    "The fire has been obviously pretty ugly today," he told
    firefighting crews over the drone of slurry bombers and helicopters
    working in the distance to keep the fire from moving too far across
    Highway 16.
    "Things have changed drastically," added Carlton Joseph, night
    operations chief for the firefighting effort.
    The fire started near the Black Hills Children's Home, south of
    Rockerville.


    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

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    Update 8-20-02

    Higher humidities and lower temps. resulted in a good day so far for firefighting. No significant spread. Current estimate of 10,000 acres.

    Worked strucure protection last night and despite some active burning no residences were lost.

    No major injuries on this fire but a US Fish and Wildlife type 6 (brush) engine rolled last night while trying to get out of a ditch. The operator was uninjured and the engine boss was not in the vehicle at the time. Vehicle sustained major damage.

    Stay safe

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    Arrow Tuesday 8/20

    ROCKERVILLE, S.D. (AP) - The Battle Creek Fire, which has
    charred about 17 square miles in the central Black Hills, is under
    investigation as being man-caused, Black Hills National Forest
    Supervisor John Twiss said Tuesday.
    However, Twiss won't say whether the probe is centering on arson
    or an accident. The Pennington County sheriff's office, aided by
    U.S. Forest Service agents, has taken the lead in the
    investigation.
    Maj. Mark Johnston of the South Dakota National Guard estimated
    that about 200 people have been evacuated since the blaze began
    Friday. The fire jumped U.S. Highway 16 on Monday and forced people
    from their homes.
    Officials had no reports Tuesday of any homes being lost in
    Monday's flare-up. Only three homes have been destroyed since the
    fire began.
    The fire is burning in rugged slopes south of Rapid City, and
    many homes are scattered throughout the thick forest.
    Aided by favorable weather, firefighters made good progress
    Tuesday. Bulldozers forged a protective perimeter around much of
    the blaze, although heavy smoke on the ground kept helicopters and
    airplanes from dropping water and fire retardant until mid
    afternoon.
    "We had a pretty successful day," said Rocky Opliger, who
    manages assignment of the fire crews.
    Southerly winds were expected to switch to the north overnight,
    and firefighters were warned that the direction of the fire could
    change. Although that would push the flames back into burned areas,
    many trees and other vegetation were not fully consumed on the
    first pass.
    Officials first thought the blaze began when a transformer blew
    up on a power pole near the Black Hills Children's Home.
    But now authorities think it might have been started by someone,
    Twiss said.
    "We're leaning toward human-caused," he said.
    If the weather holds, the fire could be contained Saturday, said
    Joe Wood, manager of the firefighting team. He said more help is on
    the way.
    About 1,100 people are involved in the firefight, including 138
    state prison inmates specially trained to fight wildfires. Wood
    expects the total force to reach as high as 1,600 within a couple
    of days.
    He said the blaze was 45 percent contained Tuesday evening. The
    cost to fight the flames so far is pegged at $1.67 million.
    Twiss said three years of drought have made the Black Hills
    vulnerable to severe fires. When fires break out, fast action is
    needed, he said.
    Gov. Bill Janklow was critical of the firefighting effort at the
    start, but said Tuesday that he believes full attention is now
    being directed at the battle.
    The four-term governor is frustrated by federal regulations that
    he said often get in the way of commonsense firefighting tactics.
    "To the extent there are resources available, I think they
    ought to be used," Janklow told reporters Tuesday at the fire camp
    just north of Rockerville. "If afterward it proves unnecessary, at
    least we tried."
    Janklow said success in fighting wildfires won't improve until
    changes are made in federal policies and regulations. For example,
    he said helicopters were prevented from carrying water over
    Interstate 90 during last month's Grizzly Gulch Fire, which
    resulted in evacuation of Deadwood and Lead.
    "I don't know where rules like this come from," Janklow said.
    "We fly airplanes over the interstate. They send satellites over
    the interstate. Birds fly over the interstate. Why can't you fly a
    bucket of water over the interstate?"
    Quick action at the outset of fires can make a significant
    difference in their severity and length, he said. It takes time to
    get people and equipment mobilized for wildfires, but once that is
    done those resources should be immediately used, Janklow said.
    Twiss said the Battle Creek Fire was initially pushed so fast by
    high winds that the first order of business was to evacuate people
    in its path. Firefighting is a complex ordeal, and the safety of
    firefighters and the public should always be paramount, he said.
    "It's organized chaos at best," Twiss said.
    The governor said it is time to establish full-time fire bosses
    in the Black Hills. Under the present system, management teams are
    thrown together after fires start, he said, and that delays the
    plan of attack.
    Changes must be made in the system because the strain of several
    large forest fires in South Dakota in recent years has nearly
    drained state and local fire resources, Janklow said. He said some
    local fire departments have begun to resist assisting at wildfires
    because workers have showed up in the past only to sit idle or be
    used very little.
    A top U.S. Forest Service official said efforts are under way
    between federal and state officials to better coordinate and
    improve firefighting activities in the Black Hills.
    "I don't believe there is a power struggle," said Rick Cables
    of Denver, regional forester. "It's a process of starting to work
    closer and closer together with the state."
    "When you enter into a relationship, you've got to work out the
    bugs. There's still a few bugs to work out."
    Cables pledged Tuesday to do all that is possible to reduce the
    likelihood of more large fires in the Black Hills. More aggressive
    thinning of the forest would be a good start, he said.
    "We know what to do, and we intend to do that," Cables said.
    Twiss said forest management often is hampered by lawsuits from
    those who oppose proposals to thin trees, and even federal policies
    sometimes interfere with maintaining a healthy forest.
    "Our best opportunity to prevent large, catastrophic wildfires
    is to keep the forest thinned," he said.
    Janklow agreed. It's a point the governor has harped on for
    years.
    "I don't think there's many people who live here that think
    this forest is very healthy," Janklow said. "I don't think they
    feel it's very safe, and I've spent a good share of my governorship
    watching South Dakotans runs for their lives in the Black Hills."

    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

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    Thumbs up Updated 8/22

    ROCKERVILLE, S.D. (AP) - Some of the 1,800 firefighters battling
    the Battle Creek Fire south of Rapid City were due to head home
    Thursday night, marking a turning point in the battle against the
    fire.
    "The greatest danger period is past, but we have a long ways to
    go," said Todd Phillipe, a Forest Service spokesman.
    Officials said Thursday evening the fire had burned about 13,000
    acres, or more than 20 square miles, in the Black Hills.
    But Phillipe said attributed the increased acreage to better
    mapping, not a growing fire.
    Firefighters had forged a line around 74 percent of the fire as
    of Thursday evening. The fire should be fully contained by Saturday
    night.
    While the edges of the fire were cooling off, the interior of
    the fire is still actively burning and could continue to do so for
    quite some time.
    "Visitors and residents will see flame by night and smoke by
    day for quite some time," Phillipe said. "It will continue to
    burn until we get a good, long soaking rain."
    The area had received about 0.1 inches of rain, not enough to
    make a difference, he said.
    "The rain didn't really help," Phillipe said. "The fire area
    was dry by noon."
    One fire behavior expert said the area needed three to four days
    of gentle, soaking rain to extinguish the fire, Phillipe said.
    The Forest Service announced travel restrictions in the area on
    Thursday to prevent traffic from interfering with firefighting
    efforts. The order only allowed residents and those with permission
    from the Forest Service to travel into the area.
    The fire began Friday and was quickly fanned by high winds.
    Another round of gusty weather Monday forced the flames across U.S.
    Highway 16 south of Rockerville.
    The fire came within 2 miles of the Mount Rushmore memorial,
    although it remained open. Those wishing to see the famous granite
    heads of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt
    were able to get there on alternate routes through the Black Hills.
    About 150 firefighters, mostly crews that worked to protect
    structures, were scheduled to leave the area Thursday night.
    "They've done their job and protected those homes," Phillipe
    said.
    He added that not all structures are out of danger yet.
    Three homes have been destroyed by the fire. Firefighters were
    jubilant that hundreds of other homes scattered throughout the
    woods were not burned. Flames forced about 200 people from their
    homes.
    The woods are extremely dry, and officials worry that other
    major fires may break out before cooler weather arrives this fall.
    Authorities suspect that the Battle Creek Fire was man-caused,
    but they are not yet willing to say if it was accidental or arson.
    Officials first thought it started when a transformer blew up on a
    power pole near the Black Hills Children's Home. The investigation
    continues.
    The running cost of fighting the blaze was put at $4 million.
    One firefighter required 14 stitches in the ankle after being
    injured by a chain saw.

    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
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    Arrow National Guard assists...THANKS!

    ROCKERVILLE, S.D. (AP) - Dressed in camouflage, the National
    Guard didn't stick out like other firefighters clad in yellow at
    the Battle Creek Fire, but the Guard had a big role in helping tame
    the flames.
    In fact, the Guard has proved reliable in disasters many times
    since blizzards socked South Dakota in 1996-1997. The Guard also
    has helped in the aftermath of the killer tornado that struck
    Spencer in 1998, Watertown flooding in 1997 and 2001 and the huge
    Jasper Fire near Custer in 2000.
    "When the Guard is needed, we respond," says Maj. Mark
    Johnston, public information officer for the South Dakota National
    Guard. "On virtually every natural disaster, no matter what the
    size, the Guard has been there."
    National Guard members operated most of the bulldozers that
    cleared a safe perimeter around the still-smoldering Battle Creek
    Fire, which burned more than 21 square miles of the Black Hills
    National Forest this month.
    "We're within 4 or 5 feet of the flames sometimes," says 1st
    Sgt. Ross Murphey of Sturgis, who has operated Guard dozers since
    1966.
    He says each fire is different, but the risks are the same:
    rapidly spreading flames that are difficult for dozers to outrun,
    steep dropoffs that threaten to overturn the massive machines, and
    tall trees that could be toppled onto drivers.
    "We've actually had to drive through the flames to the black
    side of the fire to escape it. That's when I personally worry about
    whether there's oxygen there or not," Murphey says.
    Two 20-member crews of Guard firefighters were formed this year
    and trained to help snuff wildfires, Johnston says.
    Gov. Bill Janklow says he's impressed with the efficiency of
    Guard helicopters that drop big buckets of water on wildfires.
    Their turnaround times are short and their aim is accurate he says.
    When a large range fire threatened to jump a road last month
    near St. Francis, a Guard helicopter stopped it cold, Janklow says.
    "All of a sudden out of no place comes a Guard chopper, and
    every 40 seconds he lays water on it, and the fire was out. That
    was as precision as anybody can do."
    The governor says he calls on Guard members because they are
    always ready. "They're all healthy and in shape. They come
    prepared, and they bring their skills. They're skilled truck
    drivers, military police, bulldozer operators - the kinds of stuff
    we need."
    Chief Warrant Officer Tom Fargen, a Guard pilot from Glenrock,
    Wyo., was pressed into service during the Battle Creek Fire. He
    says Blackhawk helicopters can quickly smother some fires before
    they spread and before federal officials and corresponding red tape
    begin to govern operations.
    Fargen made 50-60 trips a day into the fire zone, dropping up to
    660 gallons of water on the fire each time. He's been fighting
    fires from the air for two decades.
    "We protect homes and buildings and fire crews," Fargen says.
    The job can be risky, he says. "Smoke makes for poor
    visibility, and high altitudes cause a loss of aircraft
    performance."
    The helicopters also can pluck firefighters and others out of
    harm's way with a large rescue basket attached to a 175-foot cable.
    It was first available at the Battle Creek Fire and can easily
    carry up to eight people.
    Only a few homes have been burned during several large Black
    Hills forest fires in recent years. That makes the effort worth it,
    says Josh Kosola of Newell, a Guard dozer driver.
    "At the end of a long day, if my equipment is still in good
    shape and I've made a little dent in the fire so that it saved
    homes and other property, I'm satisfied."
    The only danger in using Guard members is overusing them,
    Janklow says. Most are part-time soldiers with other jobs and
    obligations.
    "If people think they'll have to respond every week, they're
    not going to stay in the Guard because they can't do their other
    lives," he says.
    Guard members often are first on the scene when a natural
    disaster makes activation necessary, Janklow says.
    "They've gotten to the point where they know they're going to
    get called," Janklow says. He used the Guard only a few times in
    his first eight years as governor but that there have been more
    weather problems in the last eight years.

    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com

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