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South Dakota Wildland Fire practicing fire training in Custer State Park

Published: Jun. 10, 2021 at 5:02 PM MDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 5:03 PM MDT
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CUSTER, S.D. (KEVN) - South Dakota Wildland firefighters are in Custer State Park this week to take part in a live-fire training exercise. The training is held every year to prepare seasonal employees to combat wildfires.

Every year, the state’s Wildland Fire Division holds what they call an ‘Engine Academy.’ Seasonal firefighters with the division learn how to drive the truck, operate machinery, and practice putting out a prescribed fire.

The fire this year was ignited in Custer State Park near Blue Bell Lodge.

Jay Wickham, assistant chief of operations for South Dakota Wildland Fire, said that building comradery among the crews is important in battling potential blazes.

“These guys are going to see each other this summer on a fire, it’s almost guaranteed,” Wickham said. “The fact that they know each other’s name, the fact that they can talk to each other, understanding each other, that’s a big reason why we’re doing what we’re doing here today.”

The latest South Dakota Drought Monitor shows that while the higher elevations in the hills are in the normal range because of winter snow, much of the hills is still abnormally dry.

Wickham said that as long as precipitation isn’t showing up in the hills, the chance for a wildfire continues to go up.

“August is forecasted to be potentially a busy month, although we need an ignition source,” Wickham said. “We are forecasted to dry out and have the potential for large wildfires, especially in July and August this summer.”

The Engine Academy has been going on for eight years. Actual live-fire training happened in just two of those years.

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