Preparing to burn your slash piles in the Black Hills? Check out these tips to stay safe

Photo courtesy of Rapid City Fire Department.

RAPID CITY, S.D.– As western South Dakota residents prepare to burn their slash piles, county officials are reminding people to burn with caution. Fire Administrator for Pennington County Jerome Harvey offers advice for people needing to burn their discarded materials.

What is a slash pile?

According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, slash piles are an accumulation of limbs, leaves, and other fuels created from natural debris or forest management. They are then piled together for later burns. For western South Dakota, the time for burning slash piles is November 1 through March 31.

Do I need a permit?

For residents living west of Highway 79, yes. All the way from the highway to the Wyoming border, residents burning slash piles are required to have a permit from South Dakota Wildland Fire. Permits can be applied for online, and any questions can be answered by the district office in your respective county:

  • Lawrence County-Lead District Office: 605-584-2300
  • Meade & Pennington Counties-Rapid City District Office: 605-394-2582
  • Fall River County-Hot Springs District Office: 605-745-5820
  • Custer County-Custer District Office: 605-255-4216 or 605-255-4217
  • Great Plains Dispatch Center 800-275-4955 (within South Dakota)

What do I need to know before I burn?

“Make sure that you’re burning within a safe window, that there’s adequate snow cover, and that you continue to monitor those piles,” Harvey explained. For piles five feet in height or smaller, there should be at least two feet of snow on the ground. Larger piles require six inches or more of snow on the ground before burning. And for weather patterns, he says to pay attention.  “With cyclical weather patterns here in western South Dakota– just because we’re into the, ‘traditional winter months’ does not mean that there’s adequate snow cover or moisture to keep your pile from escaping. So you want to make sure that you maintain it and continue to monitor it till it’s a dead out.”

How can I be sure the fire is out completely?

Harvey says that feeling no heat emanating from the spot is a sure way to tell that the flame is extinguished. “Make sure that you actually reach down– you can actually pick up what has been burned with your bare hands, that it’s not going to burn you,” he clarified. There should also be no sparks or embers visible, as weather phenomena such as warm Chinook winds can help re-ignite a dying fire. Much like putting out a campfire, stirring the discarded pile with a tool such as a shovel is also part of the process. “If the temperature is right, you can use water on it,” he added. “Do what we need to do to make sure that that fire is dead out and go back when we have a warming trend.”

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