There are 31 new firefighters ready to battle wild fires in the Black Hills this summer. The new crew got their training in late May at the Black Hills Interagency Fire School near Nemo. Robert Cota is the assistant fire management officer at the Box Elder Job Corps Center. Cota says the course includes 40 hours of classroom training and a day of field exercises. Recruits learn about pumps and hoses, shovels and picks, and the various incendiary devices firefighters use on the job. But most of all, they learn how to stay safe in what can be a very dangerous environment.
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.
Fire is one of the management tools used at Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills to help maintain the health and natural balance of the grassland and forest. The park uses prescribed fires to achieve a more "natural" state by reducing accumulated fuel levels, reducing ponderosa pine encroachment on the grasslands, and eliminating exotic plants and increasing the diversity and health of native plant species.
In the summer of 1910, a massive wildfire devoured more than three million acres in the Northern Rockies in 36 hours. Some 78 firefighters perished in the flames. The catastrophe occurred at time when the U.S. Forest Service was only a few years old, firefighting was a primitive science and conservation of America’s public lands was controversial. Over a century later, the legacy of what's become known as the Big Burn can be measured in the growth of the U.S. Forest Service and fire suppression policies.