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Forest Service’s fire projects show impressive results

The Early evening news on KOTA Territory TV
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 7:16 PM CDT
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CUSTER, S.D. (KOTA) - “It was very scary, obviously. This is our livelihood. We knew how close it was,” said Bill Paterson, owner of Big Pine Campground, as he recounted the day he learned a fire had sparked close to his family business.

The Wabash Spring Fire started 5 miles west of Custer in early April.

High winds pushed the fire toward buildings.

“As a firefighter, when you hear structure is threatened that kind of makes the hair on the back of your neck standup,” stated Jason Virtue, fire staff officer for the Black Hills National Forest.

The fire was eventually put out, but it could have been a lot worse without preventive measures.

Around 10 years ago, the Vestal Project was conducted.

This removed excess trees and latter fuels so future fires wouldn’t spread rapidly.

This project protected about 5,000 homes.

So, the Vestal Project along with preventive measures by homeowners like mowing their lawns and keeping them clean helped to stop the Wabash fire before too much damage could be done.

While that was wildfire, prescribed burns were used on a burn scar to get rid of the fallen trees and debris left over from the Jasper Fire in 2000.

“The objective of the prescribed fire was to come out here and reduce the hazards fuel loads on the ground and we estimated that to be 30-40 tons of fuel load on the ground,” explained Todd Hoover, Hell Canyon Fire Manager Officer for the Black Hills National Forest.

A lot of preplanning went into the prescribed burn and the weather had to be just right.

“This spring and March we had the conditions just right where we could actually burn and have a successful burn and create the system or the vegetation results that we plan for,” said Rob Hoelscher, District Ranger of the Hell Canyon Ranger District in the Black Hills.

“As that material burns, turns to ash, it’s fertilizer. That fertilizer is now going to enter the soil as it rains and that’s going to improve the growth of the plants out here whether it be grasses and forbs and such,” explained fuel specialist, Chris Stover.

Not only does the vegetation return, but wildlife revisits the area more often.

So whether it’s preventing, fighting, or cleaning up fires, it’s a collaborative effort that keeps the communities and the forest safe.

“There isn’t one agency that can do the job alone,” expressed Virtue.

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