Firefighters make progress containing Black Hills fires

Firefighters battling wildfires in the Black Hills of South Dakota create a trench with axes on a hillside west of Rapid City on Monday, March 29, 2021. The blaze that started on property near the town of Nemo had burned at least 11/2 square miles and led to the evacuation of 400 homes as of Monday afternoon. Officials say two homes and numerous outbuildings were destroyed on a day when wind gusts reached 72 mph. (Siandhara Bonnet/Rapid City Journal via AP)
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Associated Press

NEMO, S.D. (AP) — 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.

Fire crews have increased containment of the largest fire near Schroeder Road in the Nemo area to 47%, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post Wednesday. The Schroeder Road fire has burned nearly 3.4 square miles (8.8 square kilometers).

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.

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 (2.6 square kilometers) north of Richardton in Stark County, 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.