Fire crews continued Wednesday to battle a wildfire that was caused by lightning Monday afternoon in Wind Cave National Park.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Rankin Fire in Wind Cave was estimated to have burned 1,000 acres, or approximately 1.5 square miles. The fire was still at zero percent containment Wednesday evening, and the number of acres burned was expected to grow.

The fire was first reported at 1:57 p.m. Monday near the northern border of Wind Cave National Park, where it meets Custer State Park along Highway 89.

The fire is burning in steep, rocky terrain fueled by grass and timber.

A Type III incident management team has been overseeing the work of approximately 85 firefighters and an aerial attack, but a Type II team was set to take over command Thursday morning.

Crews worked throughout Tuesday night burning out the southern portion of the fire, according to Great Plains Fire Dispatch. On Wednesday, lines on the east and west boundaries of the fire were dug, according to Wind Cave public information officer Tom Farrell. 

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Farrell said firefighters had the support of a heavy air tanker and a South Dakota National Guard helicopter during Wednesday's attack of the fire.

“September and October are historically when we have the biggest fires in the park,” Park Superintendent Vidal Dávila said in a news release. “We encourage everyone to be extra cautious with their outdoor activities due to the hot and dry conditions we are experiencing.”

As of WEdnesday the only closures were the northern segment of NPS 5 and all backcountry hiking trails north of Wind Cave Canyon. The park visitor center remained open with cave tours leaving from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. throughout the day.

According to Great Plains Fire Information, lightning accounted for at least seven fires on Tuesday. The largest of those was the Coffee Fire near Montrose, Neb., which burned 750 acres; a fire near Badlands National Park burned more than 150 acres. All seven of those fires have been contained. 

— Contact Chris Huber at chris.huber@rapidcityjournal.com

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Chris Huber is the managing editor at the Rapid City Journal.