Crews Battling Fires in Black Hills, South Dakota

Authorities evacuated five homes in the Piedmont area Saturday and put other homeowners on alert for future evacuations as hot temperatures and gusty winds fanned a stubborn wildfire in the Black Hills.


RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) -- Authorities evacuated five homes in the Piedmont area Saturday and put other homeowners on alert for future evacuations as hot temperatures and gusty winds fanned a stubborn wildfire in the Black Hills.

The Ricco Fire threatened one structure but protection was in place, according to the Great Plains Interagency Fire Information Center.

Earlier Saturday, 100 homes were considered for evacuation as the fire burned in the Stagebarn Canyon and Wonderland Homes area. But officials later determined residents did not need to leave.

By early Saturday evening, the fire had burned about 70 acres. A cause has not been determined.

The fire was reported about 8:30 p.m. Friday and charred about 15 acres, according to the information center. But conditions were not favorable for crews Saturday afternoon and the fire began to grow, said spokeswoman Julie Johndreau.

As it started to take hold, witnesses reported seeing 200-foot flames jumping from tree to tree along ridge tops.

''The weather today is quite hot ... there's a dry wind, and I'm sure that contributed,'' Johndreau said.

The National Weather Service reported a temperature of 106 degrees at the Rapid City airport. Winds gusting up to 26 mph also were reported.

Eight South Dakota Highway Patrol units assisted with Saturday's precautionary evacuation order. A number of state Game, Fish & Parks vehicles and units from the Meade County Sheriff's Office were also on hand.

Crews from the Black Hills National Forest, the state and local volunteer departments were called to fight the fire, along with two Blackhawk helicopters and three Forest Service engines.

Helicopters carrying large buckets were seen dropping water on the fire at about 12:30 p.m.

Stagebarn resident Jack Smith evacuated his home before noon, leaving everything behind except his dog. He said he was headed for a friend's house in Johnson Siding.

The state Highway Patrol asked travelers to avoid Highway 79 in the Stagebarn area so emergency vehicles could get through.

Crews also battled several other smaller fires in the Black Hills on Saturday:

_ The Alkali Fire, three miles south of Sturgis, was reported Saturday morning. Between 2-5 acres had burned.

_ The Jim Canyon Fire, a mile west of the Warren Peak Lookout in the Bear Lodge range, was contained Saturday morning. An acreage estimate was not available.