The Legion Lake Fire grew tens of thousands of acres Tuesday night, and continued growing Wednesday. Our Jon Wilson spent time in Custer County and has the latest on the blaze.
As of yesterday, the Legion Lake Fire in Custer County was estimated at 4000 acres, but weather conditions combined with the local terrain resulted in a quick escalation to the south Tuesday night outside of the Custer State Park boundaries, and east all the way to Highway 79.
Operation Section Chief for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Blue Team Travis Lipp says, "The winds really kicked up, and on the east side of the fire, along the French Creek drainage, it came out of the French Creek Canyon and came across the Wildlife Loop Road at a very rapid rate of spread."
The fire quickly engulfed surrounding grasslands and timber, and firefighters were put into action to save homes and other structures that could've been impacted.
Lipp says, "We weren't able to put resources out in front of the fire. What we had to do was gather everyone up and just go do point protection, which was we were going to structures, had our engines going to structures and they were just protecting them from the fire, prepping them, getting ready to defend them should the fire come towards them."
The increasing winds Tuesday night and Wednesday were expected, and fire officials are always keeping track of both current and forecasted weather conditions.
Lipp says, "There's critical areas on the fire line we're looking at. Those drainage's, the French Creek drainage, that's one of them for example. We'll get in a try to get that prepped and ready to go, maybe try to utilize fire where we can, but again, it's the conditions that allow."
The month of December is not a common time for fires around the Black Hills, let alone ones that intensify as rapidly as what happened Tuesday night.
Lipp says, "I would bet there's not a lot of folks that have ever seen fire behavior in mid December like we seen last night when this took off."
Even with all the charred land, there are some positives as crews continue to work to gain control of the blaze.
With the extreme conditions that we had, we had no primary residences that were lost. I believe we lost three outbuildings that we know, but no primary residences, and no accidents, and no injuries to our firefighters, so that's huge.
As of Wednesday night, all pre-evacuation notices for Buffalo Gap and Fairburn have been suspended, while all evacuations north of Tatanka Spirit, west of Highway 79, up to Custer State Park are still in effect.
Also as of Wednesday night, the fire is estimated to have burned 47,000 acres.