Safer fire evacuations come with new Black Hills program

Safer fire evacuations come with new Black Hills program

13 May 2017

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USA –  SILVER CITY, S.D. – Pennington County and the Black Hills National Forest have entered in the first ever fire egress stewardship program in the Black Hills.

The program is a mutual aid agreement to combine efforts from federal and county departments in the event of an emergency. The agreement will allow for county roads to be cleared faster when an evacuation is needed.

The first project will create a 200-foot shaded fuel break, over 307 acres, on both sides of Edelweiss Mountain Road, near Pactola Reservoir. This will allow for residents to safely evacuate and will give emergency crews better access when fighting a wildland fire.

“The number one objective anytime we have an incident within the forest is public and firefighter safety,” said Chris Stover, an assistant fire management officer for fuels with the Mystic Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest. “Anything that we can do to enhance safety for the public, as well as the firefighters, you know, it is really paramount. If we can reduce the surface fuels or modify the surface fuel loads that we have out here as well as all the pine regeneration that we have going on along this road and in the general area, this is going to be a benefit for everyone.”

While this helps the Forest Service reduce fuel loads, Pennington County residents also benefit from the enhanced safety to motorists traveling along Edelweiss Mountain Road.

“It opens up the tree canopy,” said Scott Guffey, the natural resources director for Pennington County. “We are going to get more sunlight on the road surface, more snow melt, ice melt. Hopefully less county maintenance in the winter time – money savings there.”

According to Guffey, the project will also open up the view for motorists and lead to less wildlife collisions.

In addition, the reduction of the biomass will reduce the threat of another Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic within the Black Hills National Forest.

Both Pennington County and the Forest Service hope that the Edelweiss Mountain Road Stewardship is the first of many in the Black Hills. Over the next 10 years, the plan will expand to 10 county roads – the next being Old Hill City Road. If completed, 3,059 acres will be turned into shaded fuel breaks in the Black Hills.

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