July 8, 2016
South Dakota’s Wildland Fire Crew
A Column by: Governor Dennis Daugaard
It has been a dry year in parts of South Dakota. Sixty percent of the land in South Dakota is abnormally dry and counties west of the river and in the northeast are experiencing moderate to extreme drought. Drought is most severe in the Lawrence County area where the fire at Crow Peak burned more than 2,700 acres over the course of two weeks.
As I write this, the Crow Peak fire has just reached 100 percent containment. Under the lead of an Incident Management Team from Colorado, no structures were lost and no one was seriously injured or killed. The team had help from local, volunteer and municipal fire departments from across the state that put in many hours and sacrificed their Fourth of July weekend to assist the Incident Management team.
Our state fire crew, the South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Division of Wildland Fire, also played a critical role in managing the Crow Peak fire. They offered air support, equipment and hand crews to assist the Black Hills National Forest and the Incident Management Team with containment.
Created by Gov. Bill Janklow in 2001 to assume the duties of wildland fire management in South Dakota, our Wildland Fire Division assists in large fire suppression efforts by sending personnel and equipment. Wildland Fire has its own fleet of fire engines with full-time and seasonal firefighters who are stationed at four locations around the Black Hills. Division employees also work with the South Dakota National Guard which lends military heavy left helicopters, pilots and crews to fight wildfires. Wildland Fire’s efforts aren’t limited to South Dakota. They help fight fires in Canada and across the United States
When they are not on the ground fighting fires, Wildland Fire employees are engaging in fire prevention efforts. Agency hand crews are involved in fuel reduction activities that include tree thinning and brush disposal through chipping and burning at various locations in the Black Hills. They also have a fire prevention program called “One Less Spark.”
South Dakota is fortunate to have a well-operating fire crew. Wildland Fire division director Jay Esperance and his employees work very hard to limit the damage from wildfires. We are also lucky to have so many volunteer firefighters in our state who are willing to dedicate their time to help with fire suppression efforts. They routinely put their lives on the line to keep us safe.
For our part, we must not add to their workload. Respect county burn bans when they’re in place. Where fires are permitted, never leave a fire unattended, completely extinguish fires before leaving the area and remind others to be cautious. Also, be mindful when operating equipment in dry areas.
South Dakota weather is anything but predictable. We can’t prevent lightning strikes or control how much moisture we receive. But we should do all that is within our power to prevent fires, especially this year.