SDPB News: Aug 7

Aug 7, 2020

Drought conditions are settling in the state. How is this affecting South Dakota communities? Plus, what caused of the Mine Draw fire at Custer State Park back in June? All this and more in today’s SDPB News Podcast. Find it on Apple Podcasts or Spotify today. 

Credit Josh Hoffman / Black Hills National Forest

Forecasts show an increased risk of wildfires in western South Dakota in the next few weeks after two of the wettest years in state history.

Darren Clabo is the state’s Fire Meteorologist. He says the past two seasons were very wet with minimal fires.  

The Tiny House Tour

Dec 2, 2019
Stephanie Arne

In The Moment ... December 2, 2019 Show 710 Hour 1

Stephanie Arne is a speaker, explorer and wildlife presenter. Arne is the founder of the Creative Animal Foundation. She joins us today with a recap of the Tiny House Tour and its efforts to raise awareness about habitat preservation.  Recently the tiny house was surrounded by flames in the midst of a wildfire. Stephanie reminds us that fires can't burn memories and she joins us today by phone from California.

Ammunition Factory Catches Fire

May 8, 2018
Rapid City Fire Department

 An ammunition manufacturing plant caught fire Tuesday in Rapid City.  Firefighters are strategically keeping their distance and the Ultramax Ammunition building has burned to the ground.

Box Elder, Rapid City and Hill City Fire Departments found heavy smoke and flames coming from a structure fire early afternoon. Lt. Jim Bussell is the Public Information Officer with the Rapid City Police Department. Bussell says several surrounding businesses and sections of roads are still closed.

Legion Lake Fire Update - 12/13/17 - PM

Dec 13, 2017
fire in Custer State Park
SDPB Photo: Brian Gevik

As of Wednesday evening, December 13, the Legion Lake Fire burning portions of Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and a significant amount of private land south of Hermosa and north of Hot Springs has burned approximately 45,000 acres. No injuries have been reported and there has been no damage to homes or historic buildings in the area.

See photos on Flickr

Smoke Covering Black Hills From Montana Fire

Jul 21, 2017
Lee Strubinger / SDPB

Smoke from several fires in Montana is blanketing the Black Hills this afternoon.

Spearfish Fire Chief Mark Sachara says the northern hills have experienced thick smoke all morning.

That smoke started creeping into Rapid City around noon.

Sachara says the smoke is from a 30,000 acre fire.

“That fire is by Miles City. That’s the one that’s predominantly sending the smoke our way. With that many fires across the whole part of Montana, the wind is aligned just perfectly. It brought the smoke our way.”

Burning Down To Rebuild In Rockerville

Jan 2, 2017

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.

SD Crew Calls Gatlinburg Wildfire An “Eye Opener”

Dec 1, 2016

A crew of firefighters normally stationed in the Black Hills is helping fight massive wildfires in Tennessee.  

The fires have killed numerous people, burned several hundred homes, and caused thousands of people to evacuate.

Mark Menning is Crew Boss for the South Dakota Black Hat Hand Crew that includes 20 firefighters.    He says members of his team are used to fighting fire in the pine forests of the mountain west.  The Appalachian Mountains offer a different terrain and different fuels.

Charles Michael Ray / SDPB

Last summer’s Crow Peak wildfire near Spearfish resulted in a hub of information being released to the public about the fire’s status.

Fire officials used various strategies to get the word out to the public, but they say one particular approach worked especially well.  

Text message alerts sent to subscribers through the 211 Helpline ensured people received the latest news on the wildfire.

2016 Spring, Fall SD Wildfires Follow Climate Warming Pattern

Nov 13, 2016
Michael Engelhart / Black Hills National Forest

2016 brought significant spring and fall wildfires to South Dakota.  The State Fire Meteorologist Darren  Clabo says these fires follow a trend of longer fire seasons.

During major wildfires Clabo is on hand to help crews predict the weather and plan out their attack.   When he’s not helping fight fires, Clabo spends time tracking the climate.

Fire Marshal Receives Smoke Detector Grant

Oct 28, 2016
South Dakota Department of Public Safety

A working smoke detector is a critical part of fire protection.  A new grant to the State Fire Marshal’s office aims to make smoke detectors more available.

The State Farm Insurance Company gave the South Dakota Fire Marshal’s office a $5,000 grant to pay for smoke detectors. The funds are a boost to the South Dakota Smoke Alarm Grant Program. The service distributes new alarms to people living in homes that don’t have working smoke detectors. The program has given over 5,000 alarms to fire departments around the state since 2014.

Ranch Families Face Lost Cattle, Hay, Fences In Cottonwood Fire

Oct 18, 2016
Erin Fitzgerald

The Cottonwood Fire that started Sunday near Wall burned  almost 60 square miles of western South Dakota rangeland and killed more than 130 cattle.

The fire burned across both public and private land.  Local officials say about 15 families ranch in the burned area. Besides cattle losses, miles of fencing are burned and tons of hay that was set aside for winter are now gone.

Samsung's Persistent Battery Problems

Oct 7, 2016

This week's Tech Radio, hosted by Kent Osborne, deals with Samsung's persistent battery problems. Osborne, John T. Meyer and Jeff Litterick also work through a series of software announcements by Google and they touch on October Cyber Security Awareness Month.

Dakota Midday: New Black Hills Forest Supervisor Mark Van Every

Sep 29, 2016
Black Hills National Forest

The Black Hills National Forest has a new supervisor.  

Mark Van Every oversees everything on Forest Service land in the Black Hills from the effort to fight forest fires and pine beetles to efforts to ensure public access and protect public resources.

Van Every took the helm in the new position this summer.    He’s now had some time to settle into the job, and he sat down in the Rapid City studio with SDPB’s Charles Michael Ray.  Click play below to hear the interview.

Arrowhead Foods Catches Fire

Jul 25, 2016
Bruce BonFleur / Lakota Hope Ministries

A building in Whiteclay, Nebraska burned down on Monday afternoon. Arrowhead Foods was a total loss.

Bruce BonFleur is the director for Lakota Hope Ministries based in White Clay. He shot video of the fire and says it burned for almost five hours.

Whiteclay sits on the border of the Pine Ridge Reservation where alcohol is prohibited.  The liquor stores in the small town sell millions of cans of beer each year, mostly to tribal residents. But Arrowhead Foods  sold only groceries and no alcohol.  

Keep Aware Of Dry Conditions When Shooting Fireworks

Jun 27, 2016
Rapid City Police Department

Rapid City Fire Department officials say current conditions are prime for wildfire, and residents should be extra careful when discharging fireworks. State Fire Marshal Paul Merriman says all South Dakotans should be cautious. He says even when vegetation is green, it can still ignite.

Water Scooper Aircraft Poised In the Black Hills

Jun 3, 2016
Kenzie Wagner / SDPB

UPDATE: Officials with the Forest Service say the scoopers were called out to fight large fires in Alaska.

The Black Hills is temporary home for two U.S. Forest Service water scooper airplanes. 

Each aircraft can skim a lake, scoop up about 1,600 gallons of water to carry and drop on wildfires.

The two Bombardier CL 415’s are the only forest service scoopers currently operational in the country. Officials say the planes are on hand due to potential wildfire conditions in the area.

Prescribed Burn Helps Cold Fire Crews

May 24, 2016
Michael Engelhart / Black Hills National Forest

It’s been over a month since the Cold Fire cut through the Southern Black Hills. It burned almost two-thousand acres of land, but officials say it could have been worse. They say a previous prescribed burn in the area helped slow the progress of the wildfire.

In 2014, officials ran a prescribed burn on forest land near Pringle. Almost two years later, a wildfire closed in on the treated area.

Matt Spring of the Hell Canyon Ranger District says that prescribed burn helped control the Cold Fire that started April 2.  

Storm Hill Fire Closes Highways 16 & 385 Saturday Night

Apr 24, 2016
Jim Strain / South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire

The Storm Hill Fire kept crews busy this weekend in the Black Hills.    The fire is burning on about 193 acres near Hill City.  

It forced the closure of two major Black Hills highways for a few hours on Saturday night and into Sunday morning.  

Officials continue to warn drivers to watch for emergency vehicles around the three forks area on Highways 16 and 385.

Cyd Janssen  is with Great Plains Fire Information.   She says cooler temperatures and higher humidity are helping fire crews get the upper hand.  

Kealey Bultena / SDPB

Spring weather is here. For many South Dakotans that means getting outdoors and barbecuing or even standing around a campfire. While people take advantage of the warmer weather, first responders urge them to enjoy fire with caution. Sioux Falls Fire Rescue crews are using controlled demonstrations to prove how dangerous unattended grills and fire pits can be.

Sioux Falls fire inspector Tyler Tjeerdsma tosses hamburgers onto a grill that stands right next to a wall. He closes the lid, and within minutes the beige vinyl siding blackens and peels apart like taffy.

Fires Impacting Air Quality

Apr 13, 2016
SD Wildland Fire Division

Smoke from fires in Kansas is impacting air quality in southeast South Dakota.  Brad Schultz is with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He says Wednesday morning air quality was at an unhealthy level in Union County and unhealthy for sensitive groups in the Sioux Falls area.

A response team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating a fire in Arlington. The ATF team is working to find out what caused the incident at a mink processing plant last week.


Officials say the Top Lot Processors fire began at 2:20AM on Thursday March tenth. There were no injuries, but loss is estimated at approximately five million dollars. The South Dakota State Fire Marshal’s office, Department of Criminal Investigation, Arlington Volunteer Fire Department and Kingsbury County Sheriff’s Office are assisting in the investigation.

Prescribed Burns Planned In Black Hills

Oct 22, 2015
Black Hills National Forest

Officials with the Black Hills National Forest are planning a series of prescribed burns across the Hills in the coming months.   Fall weather can bring the right conditions for larger scale controlled burning.   

Chris Stover is an Assistant Fire Management Officer with the Forest Service on the Mystic Ranger District in the Black Hills.   
“The prime reason we like to burn is that fire is an ecologically necessary part of the environment in which we live here,” says Stover.  

Kealey Bultena / SDPB

Investigators are trying to piece together factors that left a family of six dead in a murder-suicide. Fire engulfed a home near Platte one week ago, and responders found six bodies inside. Preliminary autopsy results show Nicole Westerhuis and four children died of shotgun wounds. Authorities suspect husband and father Scott Westerhuis killed them before shooting himself.

Scott Westerhuis was business manager for an organization called Mid Central Education Cooperative. Recent audits reveal financial issues with grant money that funnels to the group.

South Dakota authorities say four children and their mother found dead in a house fire last week are homicide victims. Attorney General Marty Jackley says preliminary autopsy results show Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor, and Michael Westerhuis died of shotgun wounds.

Officials say the sixth person dead is husband and father Scott Westerhuis. He also died of a shotgun wound, and authorities suspect suicide.

On September 17th flames engulfed a home just south of Platte, South Dakota. After first responders put out the fire, officials found a family of six dead.

Mock Dorm Burns In Minutes

Aug 30, 2015
Charles Michael Ray

September is Campus Fire Safety Month in South Dakota.   The idea is to raise awareness about the potential for fire in college dorms, Greek housing, and off campus apartments.

The Rapid City Fire Department held a demonstration at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to show students the danger of structure fire.

The department set up a steel trailer with side by side rooms.  Both rooms were filled furniture and then set on fire.

Tim Behlings is an Assistant Chief at the Rapid City Fire Department.   

Fallen Firefighter Remembered In Rapid City

Aug 9, 2015
Charles Michael Ray

A large crowd gathered to remember fallen firefighter Dave Ruhl.  

Rapid City residents lined the streets for a procession and filed into a memorial service at the Civic Center.

Ruhl, was a former member of the Coast Guard who became a Forest Service Firefighter in the Black Hills. 

He was on assignment firefighting in California when he was killed on the Frog Fire in the Modoc National Forest.

Black Hills Firefighter Memorial Set for Sunday And Monday

Aug 4, 2015
Black Hills National Forest

The memorial for fallen firefighter Dave Ruhl begins on Sunday with a 1:00 pm procession starting at the Our Lady Of Perpetual Help Cathedral. The procession moves down 5th street to a 2:00 pm visitation at the Rapid City Civic Center. Memorial services at the Civic Center begin at 3:00 pm.

A funeral at the Cathedral follows on Monday at 10:00 am. Ruhl is set to be interred at Black Hills National Cemetery.

Sturgis Emergency Manager Hopes For Best, Preps For Worst

Jul 14, 2015
Charles Michael Ray

The 75th Sturgis Rally could bring more than 750,000 people to South Dakota in the first part of August.
The flood of people can compound challenges in dealing with any major catastrophe that could occur.
So, officials with the Meade County Emergency Management in Sturgis are opening an operations center and keeping it staffed through the rally.

Officials in Minnehaha County have lifted a burn ban. Commissioners issued a burn ban a few weeks ago because dry weather contributed to small planned fires quickly spreading.

Emergency Management Director Lynn DeYoung says the conditions are different now.