Wind gusts, smoke complicate firefighters job in Custer park

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2017 10:05 PM

CUSTER, S.D. (AP) — Strong wind gusts and thick smoke were making it difficult for firefighters battling a spreading wildfire late Tuesday in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The fire grew to more than 6.25 square miles (16.2 square kilometers) Tuesday and was only 7 percent contained, according to the park and state officials.

Custer State Park is one of South Dakota's most popular destinations, featuring hills with ponderosa pine and prairie. It is known for its herds of bison and other wildlife. Officials say wildlife isn't at risk because animals in the park are familiar with wildfire and naturally avoid dangerous areas.

Firefighters have concentrated on protecting structures including popular tourist sites such as the Blue Bell Lodge and the State Game Lodge.

"We can tip our hats and thank our firefighters that we haven't lost any of these buildings," Kobee Stalder, the park's visitor services program manager, told KELO-AM. "I'm very confident to say that we are not going to lose any of these buildings."

Five homes in the park have been evacuated and one unused building was burned down. No one has been injured.

The blaze erupted Monday during dry, warm weather. The cause is under investigation.

The park will remain closed at least until Friday.