Firefighters continued to make progress Wednesday on containing wildfires in the Black Hills of South Dakota that earlier forced the evacuation of more than 400 homes, caused Mount Rushmore to close and prompted a state declaration of emergency.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed an executive order Tuesday in response to the severe drought and ongoing fires, declaring a state of emergency through June 1.
The order will allow the state to provide greater assistance to the response efforts of local and volunteer firefighters.
Fire crews have increased containment of the largest fire in the Nemo, South Dakota, area to 47%, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post Wednesday. Dubbed the Schroeder Road fire, the blaze has burned nearly 3.4 square miles.
“Very dry air across the area will result in elevated fire weather conditions today,” the National Weather Service announced on Twitter, but warned that “with gustier winds possible on Thursday, fire weather conditions may be critical during the day into the evening.”
Law enforcement officers opened some neighborhoods that had been evacuated, but were only admitting people who live there. Residents were asked to remain on their property and not to call 911 unless there is imminent danger from fire flare-ups.
The Schroeder Road fire has crossed into two neighborhoods near Rapid City, according to the sheriff’s office. At least one home has been destroyed, as well as several other structures. No injuries have been reported.
Legal weed in NY:New York becomes 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana
Two smaller blazes were burning southwest of Rapid City, including one inside the grounds of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which remained closed Wednesday.
The fire continued to burn in steep, rough country inaccessible by roads, officials said. Heavy airtankers and helicopters supported ground firefighters as they protected homes and worked to contain the fire.
The wind remained a factor in firefighting efforts, but was not as strong as it was on Monday and Tuesday, fire officials said.
Strong winds and drought conditions also fueled a wildfire in western North Dakota, where a firefighter was injured in a fire truck crash due to low visibility from smoke. The injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.
The fire has burned about 1 square mile north of Richardton, North Dakota, officials said.
An abandoned building burned in the blaze, as did fences, power lines and utility poles. Montana-Dakota Utilities spokesman Mark Hanson said the fire damaged five of the company’s structures, causing one to collapse.
A downed power line was believed to have started the fire.
Contributing: Alfonzo Galvan of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader; Associated Press