ROSEBUD, SD – The Rosebud Sioux Tribe declared a State of Emergency on Monday along with a reservation-wide disaster due to the string of wildfires which have been burning out of control since Thursday, July 19. As many as 18 fires were initially ignited by lightning strikes on the Rosebud Reservation last week.
There are three active fires which continue to burn on the Rosebud Reservation, dubbed Iron Shell, Longhorn Complex and South Crazy Horse. These lightning caused fires have now burned approximately 38,976 acres, and are 25% contained. Also, a burn out operation was initiated on the east side of the Iron Shell fire to secure the perimeter. The extreme fire behavior and fire spread during the Sunday night operational period resulted in a 20,300 acres growth of the Iron Shell fire.
These fires are the top “priority in the region because of the threat to human life,” stated Joe Lowe, Incident Commander. He leads the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team C, a Type II Team, which assumed command of the fires as of 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 21, 2012. “We will continue to build on the successes of the local firefighters; they have done an excellent job with minimal resources.”
The first threat to human life came on Saturday, July 21, 2012 when the Iron Shell Fire forced the evacuation of 50 homes in the Spring Creek Community. Evacuation Centers were opened at the St. Francis Community Center and the St. Francis Indian School Gymnasium. Red Cross staff has been on hand to take care of the needs of evacuees.
Also, approximately 100 people living in the Upper Cut Meat Community were ordered to evacuate around midnight on Sunday, July 22, 2012 when the Iron Shell fire quickly doubled in size due to high wind gusts, some up to 60 miles an hour. Highway 18 from the Bennett/Todd County line to the community area itself was also closed for part of the night. The evacuation order for Upper Cut Meat, located on the west end of Rosebud, was lifted Monday afternoon as heavy equipment crews worked very quickly to build a stronger line around the fire after the burning moved out of rough terrain.
Also on Monday, July 23, 2012 a lightning strike was believed to be the cause of a newly ignited fire, the South Crazy Horse Fire. This fire is located east of the Iron Shell Fire. Additional resources responded, constructing fire lines and providing structure protection.
Crews on the Iron Shell fire continue to provide structure protection and construct and improve fire lines, as they battle to protect homes, natural and cultural resources. Fire crews will also be working to improve lines in the area of BIA Road #5. Ground efforts are supplemented with air support.
Four Type 1 helicopters (including two South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopters), Four Type 2 and one Type 3 helicopters are assigned to the fire. Air tankers based out of Rapid City provided retardant drops on Monday.
To date, no residential structures have been lost. However, four outbuildings were destroyed in the Iron Shell fire on Sunday night when the fire doubled in size due to the strong erratic winds. Spring Creek Community residents remain evacuated from their homes as of press time. Currently, BIA 30 and BIA 5 remain closed into the Spring Creek Community.
Local rancher, Chase Strand had high praise for the work of fire crews. “Fire crews did a phenomenal job, I am very pleased.” Strand and several other ranchers have approximately 400 head of cattle in the rangelands north of the fire. Fire crews working in the areas south of the cattle successfully held the fire lines in spite of the extreme fire behavior; allowing the cattle to remain in place and thus preventing a stressful and difficult relocation operation.
Monday was a battle of firefighter versus weather. In spite of the above average temperatures and low humidity, fire crews achieved success on many fronts. “Today we had some hard fought victories on several parts of the fire. Hopefully, we will have some favorable weather factors tonight that will improve fire conditions,” stated Incident Commander Lowe.
Again, crews working on the fires will continue to provide structure protection and improve fire lines, as well as patrol the fire, and mop up. Fire crews continue to provide structure protection and line construction on the Iron Shell Fire. Despite the size of these fires only a handful of injuries were reported. Some firefighters were treated for heat related problems while another firefighter suffered a knee injury.
Nearly 600 firefighters from across the region continue to work to contain the fires, which were often dangerously out of control due to the dry conditions and high winds. Firefighters and other personnel worked long hours to build lines around the fires for several days in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.
Governor Daugaard visited the Incident Command Post on Sunday, July 22, 2012 and encouraged fire fighters to “do your job, work hard and be safe” at the morning briefing.
Smoke continues to be heavy in the areas closest to the fires, and may settle into lower areas during nighttime. Drivers are reminded to use caution when driving in these areas. People with respiratory diseases, such as asthma or other breathing problems, were advised to remain indoors.
Much of this information was taken from the Longhorn Complex Fire website. For more recent updates please call the Incident Command Center located at St. Francis Indian School at 605-747-2046 or 747-2707. Around the clock updates are also being provided by KOYA-FM Radio, located at 88.1 on your FM dial.
To view maps and other information on the Longhorn Complex Fire, visit http://inciweb.org/incident/3030/