• Wed. May 12th, 2021

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South Dakota Wildfires Prompt Mount Rushmore to Close

At least three wildfires in western South Dakota have prompted the closure of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial and forced the evacuation of about 400 homes, the authorities said on Monday.

One of the fires, just west of Rapid City in Pennington County, was reported Monday morning, officials said. The cause of the fire, which started in the Schroeder Road subdivision, was under investigation, but the authorities said it was caused by humans.

About 250 firefighters were working to contain the blaze, which as of Monday night was estimated to have burned about 1,900 acres. No injuries were reported, but one home and two other structures were destroyed, a fire official said.

“This is a very active and dangerous scene,” the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office posted to Facebook.

“I really want to express my deep appreciation to all the first responders,” Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota said during a news conference on Monday. “There has been losses, and that is tragic for those families.”

Images posted to Facebook showed helicopters carrying buckets of water over the fire. Other pictures showed homes surrounded by thick smoke. A nighttime view of the area showed several fires glowing from Skyline Drive in Rapid City.

About 20 miles southwest of Rapid City, two smaller wildfires near the town of Keystone forced the closure of Mount Rushmore and roads leading to the landmark until further notice, according to the authorities.

One of the fires was estimated to cover about 75 acres while the other covered about 20 acres, fire officials said.

On Monday, Ms. Noem said one of the fires was “not threatening” Mount Rushmore.

“It looks as though it may be moving south, which is a good indication for us,” Ms. Noem said. “Winds are a factor. The fire that is closer to Keystone does not appear to be threatening any businesses at the time.”

Ms. Noem said the situation was fluid and emphasized that gusty winds could cause the fire to jump.

The weather forecast for the next 24 hours was not expected to improve conditions.

A red flag warning, meaning an area is under critical fire weather conditions, and a wind advisory were in effect for parts of South Dakota until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Winds of up to 35 miles per hour were expected with gusts up to 50 miles per hour.