AFTER EFFECT: Fuels Project in Spearfish Canyon aims to clean up forest fire fuel

The project aims to take away potential forest fire fuel that became available through two tornadoes that ravaged Spearfish Canyon just over one year ago.

SPEARFISH, S.D. — The last few years have been a whirlwind for Spearfish Canyon.

“We’ve had three pretty significant weather related events in the last five or six years, snow storms and then three wind related events that raised a lot of havoc here,” said Chief Gerry Bennett of the Spearfish Canyon Volunteer Fire Department.

During the first week of July in 2020 – first responders were called – but found difficulty responding due to fallen trees on the road that took hours to remove.

“We did have quite a few calls that day of trees on campers in Timon Campground and it does make it difficult trying to get through these to get to these people,” Bennett said.

Two tornadoes stretched some 50 miles that also went along the same path within a week of each other.

“What used to be back here was a Pine and Spruce forest,” said Steve Kozel, a District Ranger, with the Northern Hills Ranger District in the Black Hills National Forest.

Now, the U.S. Forest Service has started a fuels reduction project in Spearfish Canyon to take away potential wildland fire fuel that was killed by the tornadoes while also protecting residents and the land.

“The needles are dried out, the smaller branches and limb wood is all drying out and it’s much more receptive to carrying fire than in the past, so we’re probably right on time in doing this project than to let it linger any longer,” Kozel said.

Crews and machinery are working rough areas – creating piles that will be burned in the winter.

16 years ago, the same technique was used on Kirk Hill,- which recently produced a fire that firefighters were able to contain – thanks to concepts like this.

“The intent of that again, is that when we do that firing, it burns with less intensity and less severity so that we can control it, we can control the behavior of the fire more and then therefore it’s easier to hold it and contain it to where we want to contain it to,” said Brian Rafferty, the Assistant Fire Management Officer with the Northern Hills Ranger District.

A fuels reduction project geared toward saving lives and land in the Black Hills National Forest.

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