Heavy construction equipment doing a reseeding operation sparked Friday’s Mallow Fire on Cowboy Hill, according to fire officials.
This accidental spark grew in a big way, burning 147 acres of wilderness and threatening hundreds of homes.
“We were very close to a disaster,” said Rapid City Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne.
Sweeping through the rugged terrain of Cowboy Hill, flames scorched the foundations of some nearby homes. Fire crews had to stay mobile to beat flames back from a long line of residential areas, but no homes or other significant structures were destroyed.
“We were very fortunate yesterday to have this fire occur in an area where we don’t have a lot of houses,” Maltaverne said.
The fire was largely contained by 8 p.m. Friday night. It was 100 percent contained by 5 p.m. Saturday after crews monitored the blaze nonstop throughout the night and the next day.
Some parts of the area continue to burn. Firefighters will monitor those areas for the next several days until everything is extinguished.
Though the firefighting efforts included a bulldozer and a Black Hawk helicopter, many resources for fighting wildfires weren’t available due to the time of year.
“If this were July, there would be many (fire) crews around the country,” said Dave Davis, the city council president. “These type of crews are typically seasonal.”
The full cause of the fire remains under investigation, but Maltaverne said officials are “fairly confident it was accidentally human-caused” based on eyewitness accounts.
No firefighters or civilians were injured by the fire, leading Davis to call the response to the fire “a very, very successful event.”
“It may have gotten away from us if this department wasn’t as well-trained and well-equipped,” Davis said.
Maltaverne said the Mallow Fire should serve as a wakeup call to people who live near wilderness areas.
“There is a sense of complacency at times, I think, among our residents,” Maltaverne said -- a sense that “we’re safe from wildfires.”
He urged residents to take more responsibility for fire prevention. The Rapid City Fire Department is applying for several grants that pay part of the cost of fire mitigation efforts. Maltaverne urged residents to call the fire department at 394-4180 or the state wildfire division at 393-8011 for information about what homeowners can do to manage wildfire risks.
Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or email@example.com.