CUSTER, S.D. UPDATE 7:00 p.m.: Due to successful burnout operations and areas where the fire escaped containment, the Legion Lake Fire has grown to 53,875 acres and remains at 50% containment. Mop up efforts and patrolling by firefighters will continue into the weekend. Additional resources are currently being released, and by Saturday, the Rocky Mountain Team Blue will transfer command back to local type three organization.
Fire crews from Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and of course South Dakota are making some progress while trying to contain the third-largest wildfire ever recorded in the Black Hills.
Authorities confirmed Thursday morning that a fallen tree into a power line was the cause of the fire.
Over 300 firefighters are combing efforts to continue to contain the Legion Lake Fire. They have faced everything from high winds to cold, winter conditions.
"We did get some moisture overnight, a little bit of snow up here. It's been a moderated fire behavior. That's gonna go away this afternoon and then we'll be back up to warm and dry, warmer and drier conditions," Incident Commander Rob Powell said.
The snow may not help put out the flames, but it did slow down the fire's progress.
"It's gonna take a lot of snow to put this thing to bed and moderate the surrounding areas, but until we get that, we're still in fire season here in the Black Hills. It's not unusual," Powell said.
South Dakota received phone calls from surrounding states asking if their help was needed.
"It doesn't really matter what color shirt you have on, what color truck you have, we all work together, we all train together and we fight fire together. This has been a huge inter-agency fire fighting effort," Director of Wildland Fire Suppression in South Dakota Jay Esperance said.
Keeping structures in and around Custer State Park safe has been a concern.
"No one wants to let a structure burn up. We don't want our neighbors to lose their house or anything that goes along with that, any of their possessions. Frankly, there are some places that we can't save em all," Structure Protection Group Supervisor Tim Daly said.
Animals have also been a huge concern for the public and state park staff.
"I've seen, personally, some buffalo that have been singed and burned, but as far as I know there's been no fatalities regarding the buffalo. They're gonna be stressed for sure," Daly said.
Custer State Park Staff have already located their bison herd as well as a southern herd of elk. Staff plan on giving complete checkups on the animals, giving them their vaccines, and tending to any fire damage they may have.
All evacuation orders have been lifted, but Custer State Park will stay closed until further notice.
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