With wildfires raging in neighboring states and a growing danger of fire in the Black Hills, Pennington County officials will host meetings in Keystone and Hill City next week to share information with the people who live and work in those communities.

“The time for people to prepare is now. It’s not when we knock on their door and tell them we’re evacuating, or in August, when the fire danger is extremely high,” Pennington County Chief Deputy Brian Mueller said.

Pennington County officials started preparing for a fire emergency more than two years ago.

“It’s not a new phenomena to us that we’ve got this growing problem with dead trees in the Hills,” said Mueller, referring to the spreading pine beetle infestation and the trees that have been felled to control the spread. Law enforcement and emergency agencies have conducted practice drills during the past two years to prepare for emergency evacuations.

Now, it’s time to share plans to help residents prepare for an evacuation if needed, Mueller said.

At the meetings in Keystone and Hill City, local and county officials will give short presentations about fire danger, emergency preparedness and Pennington County’s reimbursement program for pine beetle control. Time will also be devoted to the specific needs of each community, Mueller said. The final 30 minutes of the one-hour meetings are reserved for discussions with the public.

Mueller said anyone living in the Hills is welcome to attend either meeting.

Meetings begin at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Keystone Community Center and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Hill City Middle School.

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The South Dakota Department of Agriculture and South Dakota State University Extension, meanwhile, will host half-day “Firewise” workshops this weekend in Hill City, Newcastle, Wyo., and Chadron State Park in Nebraska.

Gary Marshal, deputy fire chief of Bend, Ore., and a Firewise regional advisor for the western United States, is the workshop's main presenter.

The free workshop will help property owners understand wildfires and what they can do to create a defensible space around their homes and businesses.

The workshops will include indoor discussions before moving into the field.

Interested participants are asked to reserve a spot by calling John Ball at 605-688-4737 or emailing john.ball@sdstate.edu.

Contact Andrea Cook at 394-8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com

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