Remembering the Grizzly Gulch Fire, 20 years later

Deadwood Volunteer Fire Department hosted a program to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Grizzly Gulch Fire
Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 7:38 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - On June 29, 2002, around 2 PM the Deadwood Volunteer Fire Department responded to a call that help was needed for a fire; and on this day 20 years ago, the Grizzly Gulch Fire started to burn 11,000 acres that inched close to Deadwood.

The Grizzly Gulch Fire burned for ten days, 11,000 acres, and caused $5.5 million of damage to the area surrounding Deadwood and Lead, but that was just the aftermath. During the fire, local fire departments were quick to action, putting in long hours to save their friends and neighbors.

“It seemed like it was non-stop there for a while,” said Mike Klamm, former fire chief for Deadwood Volunteer Fire Department.

Ken Hawki, a volunteer for the Deadwood Volunteer Fire Department says, “Probably close to 36″ hours, that volunteer firefighter put in at the beginning of the fire. During that time, he helped evacuate Deadwood for nearly an hour.

Hawki recalls telling an emergency responder, “I slowed down and he said, ‘what do you need?’, I said ‘start evacuating the hospital’, he said ‘when?”, I said ‘now!’, he said ‘really?’, I said ‘yep’.

He said you just jump in and figure it out, “There wasn’t a whole lot of planning, but when you look up over the hillside and there’s 200-foot flame lengths, it don’t take people long to figure out they need to get out of here.”

Once Deadwood was empty, a drive through town was, “Just eerie going through Deadwood and no lights and no people,” said Klamm.

It wasn’t long after the flames had died down, that you could see the hope in the communities. “Just very welcoming. There was signs all over, thanking the firefighters, welcoming them here. We appreciated what they did to help save our community,” said Francis Toscana, former City of Deadwood Mayor (2001-2013).

Hawki says, “We’re trying to be a little more proactive with Firewise programs. We spend about fifty to one hundred grand a year on fire wising. Now we are trying to work toward fire wising our way around town and do some major Firewise projects and that’s my hope is to keep people aware of the potential danger areas and to do something preventive, so it don’t happen.” Hawki is heavily involved in creating and managing firewise programs in Deadwood, and hopes to educate people in the area on how to prevent fires.

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