Southern Hills neighborhood helping to fight wildfires

HOT SPRINGS, S.D. – In the Black Hills, fire is part of the landscape.

With wildfire season 365 days a year, firefighters can’t do it alone and they need as many people on board as possible.

The Sign Indicating Country Club Estates Has Been Recognized By Firewise UsaHowever, thanks to one community’s efforts, residents are working towards curbing fire potential near their homes.

Country Club Estates near Hot Springs is one of eight state communities recognized by Firewise U.S.A., an organization helping people come together and act on lowering risk of local wildfires. The organization is part of a larger project with the Department of Public Safety and Wildland Fire for reducing hazardous fuels.

Fuels refer to any materials in the environment that can burn, such as downed branches or trees.

As part of the project, residents worked to build a three-year plan of action.

The first year involved a community assessment, which highlighted the need for another evacuation route. Like many neighborhoods in the hills, there is only one way in and out. Now in year two, they are working to establish the alternate evacuation plan required by fire officials.

“We think of that as a homeowner – how do I get out? But the other thing is if the firefighters get trapped, they leave before they can finish working on your home because they have to get their equipment and themselves as well,” Country Club Estates homeowner Bill Shulaw said. “So it’s an issue not only for the homeowner but for the people trying to save your house.”

Ember awareness is also something fire officials stress for all, as it can play the role of a catalyst in a dangerous blaze.

Pine needles, one of the main fuels officials urge residents to be mindful of, fall where the wind takes them.

Embers also act similarly and pine needle build-up along a structure could mean serious damage as well.

“A small fire is going to start,” Wildland Urban Interface Technician with South Dakota Wildland Fire, Lane Ostenson said. “And so that brings in the possibility of it spreading into the structure, and ultimately burning down the structure itself.”

In keeping with their action plan, residents will be hosting a clean-up event for pine needles and other debris items on the ground on May 7, for Wildfire Community Preparedness Day and by greater extent, Wildfire Awareness Month.

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