Crews battling Black Hills wildfires hampered by strong wind

National News

Smoke from a wildfire in the Black Hills of South Dakota blankets an area on the outskirts of Rapid City, S.D., where police set up a roadblock on Monday, March 29, 2021. There were at least three wildfires west that were burning west of Rapid City on a day when wind gusts ranged from 50 to 72 mph. The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said at least 400 homes had been evacuated and about 250 firefighters were battling the blaze that started near the town of Nemo. (Siandhara Bonnet/Rapid City Journal via AP)

NEMO, S.D. (AP) — High winds Tuesday hampered firefighters battling wildfires in the Black Hills of South Dakota that have forced the evacuations of more than 400 homes and closed the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Three separate wildfires were burning near Rapid City, with the largest near Schroeder Road in the Nemo area. That fire has burned nearly 3 square miles (7.7 square kilometers) and has not been contained at all. Two smaller blazes were burning southwest of Rapid City, including one inside the grounds of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The monument, as well as surrounding roads, were closed through at least Tuesday.

The Schroeder Road fire has crossed into two neighborhoods near Rapid City, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday. At least one home has been destroyed after “an intense structure fight,” officials said. No injuries have been reported.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who traveled to Rapid City on Monday to oversee the response, said the Schroeder Road fire started on private property. “There have been losses and that is tragic,” she said.

On Monday, winds in the area reached as high as 81 mph (130 kph). Firefighters initially responding to the Schroeder fire found “a fast-moving ground fire in extreme fire danger condition,” officials reported. They immediately called for assistance from firefighters around the region.

U.S. Forest Service support services specialist Halley Legge said wind speed is still an issue as about 250 firefighters continue their work.

Gusty northwest winds continued Tuesday across the western South Dakota plains, the National Weather Service in Rapid City tweeted. Winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts of 55 mph were expected, the weather service said.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said his family was among those who were evacuated.

“I watched a neighbor’s house go up in flames. So it touches all of us,” Thom said at a news conference.

One of the other blazes has burned an estimated 90 acres (36 hectares) and the third 15 acres (6 hectares).

The fire near Mount Rushmore has threatened 15 structures, including park facilities and private homes, but none have been destroyed, according to Great Plains Fire Public Information Officers Travis Mason-Bushman. He said the fire was near main access roads to the monument but had not gotten close to the visitor center.

“It did not grow much overnight,” he said. “The challenge is that it’s burning in some pretty steep and rugged terrain. We need to bring in hand crews.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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