Slash pile burning: reducing burnable vegetation in the Black Hills

THE BLACK HILLS, S.D. (KOTA TV) If you've seen more smoke in the Northern Black Hills the past two days, there's a good reason why.

South Dakota Wildland Fire has hazardous fuels reduction projects throughout the Black Hills. (Photo: South Dakota Wildland Fire)

With recent wildfires in Australia burning a massive expense of land, to a stretch of fires hitting the California Bay Area last year, officials have seen first-hand the destruction uncontrolled fires can cause.

To prevent such destruction from occurring in the Black Hills, the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division takes on hazardous fuel reduction projects throughout the year.

"What our fuels reduction project does is it creates areas around the home so when the fire burns it won't be as intensive. That way it gives firefighters the opportunity to go in there more safely and it also decreases the chance of a home igniting during these wildfire events," said Wildland Urban Interface Specialist, Logan Brown.

Slash Pile burning, commonly known as wood-waste disposal, aims to reduce the amount of burnable vegetation on the landscape. This provides a survivable space around homes and communities - along with enhanced forest resiliency towards wildfire and insect disturbances.

But the weather conditions under which ignitions occur matter the most during the burning projects.

"When the conditions are right we can burn a lot of piles. Some winters where there isn't so much snow or in the Southern Hills where there's not as much snow we don't burn as many piles. So depending on the weather for the year, we could burn 300 acres of slash piles or 100 acres of slash piles," said Brown.

On Tuesday, 140 slash piles were successfully burned near Boulder Canyon. On Wednesday, Wildland Fire Division crews planned to burn the same amount but were less successful due to the slash piles being too wet, making ignition difficult.

In the last 30 years, the Black Hills National Forest has averaged 99 wildfires per year that have burned 7,902 acres per year. Approximately 75% of fires are lightning-caused with the remainder being human-caused.