A prescribed fire in the small Black Hills town of Rockerville burned a significant number of historic buildings on Main Street and adjacent areas to the ground. SDPB’s Jim Kent was at the scene as more than 60 firefighters from companies across Pennington County took part in the event.
Rockerville is located in the heart of the Black Hills….just south of Rapid City.
It was established in 1876 as a Christian mining town and as an alternative to raucous locations like Deadwood says Rockerville land owner and realtor Pat Hall.
“Rockerville was the first Christian mining town in the Black Hills and Deadwood was the first on the opposite side of the venue,” explains Hall. “It was a little more wild and cut-up. The main street of Rockerville was called ‘Ascension”…like you would ascend into the heavens. And in 1960s Rockerville became kind of a tourist town…a tourist attraction.”
Primary among the tourist attractions was a strip mall with tourist shops, a live theatre called the “Melerdrammer” and a “Ghost Town”. All have since closed.
Pat Hall bought auctioned property in Rockerville in 2000 that included the strip mall. His plan was to develop it…a plan that never came to pass.
With the strip mall and other buildings in Rockerville in serious disrepair and with a renewed interest in developing the space, Pat Hall created a win-win situation with the Rockerville Volunteer Fire Department.
I’m standing near the old strip mall with Fire Chief Gail Schmidt on a frigid New Year’s Eve morning.
“Today we are burning down these old buildings in Rockerville,” Schmidt comments. “The land owner has requested that we come in and burn those down for him. We use it as a great training opportunity. So…it’s an opportunity for the young and the old to see how the fire burns…and to practice some different fire ignitions as well as fire suppression and water hauling.”
Buildings have been prepped to be burned down removing anything that’s not supposed to burn. There are 3 divisions or fire locations. Fires are started simultaneously on Chief Schmidt’s command.
“Division One Operations…you have permission to light,” Schmidt advises over her radio as the prescribed fire begins.
It’s a clear, crisp morning. Winds are low and the sun is just rising above the surrounding tree tops as the buildings finally catch fire and start to burn.
Flames eventually consume the entire structures and the intense heat can be felt across the street at The Gaslight restaurant…where more than 100 locals have gathered to watch the historic event.
It takes more than 2 hours for everything to burn down and for firefighters to ensure the area is safe. It may look bad now, but Pat Hall assures the community that a phoenix will rise from the ashes in 2018.