Legion Lake Fire

Paul Schnose, 88, stands in a cattle pasture at his ranch near Buffalo Gap on April 26. Schnose lost 2,000 acres of grass to the Legion Lake Fire in December. The grass is growing back this spring, but Schnose is unsure when the pasture will be ready for grazing.

Power lines have caused 41 wildfires that have burned 57,151 acres in the Black Hills since 2013, according to statistics from the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division.

The year 2013 was when Black Hills Energy undertook a five-year, $14.8 million project to clean out the right-of-way corridors along its electrical distribution network in the Black Hills. Full information about the ownership of the power lines that caused the 41 fires was not immediately available, and there are other entities besides Black Hills Energy that provide electricity in and around the Black Hills, including several cooperatives.

When other causes of wildfires are considered, including lightning and human activity, the wildfires caused by power lines have accounted for only 3 percent of the total number of wildfires — but 75 percent of the total acres burned — during the past five years in the Black Hills.

The acreage numbers are distorted by the exceptional size of the Legion Lake Fire, which burned 54,023 acres. But in this case, the exception could be the rule. Fires caused by contact between trees and power lines are “typically much more damaging and costly than typical wildland fires,” according to a report commissioned by the federal government on the vegetation management practices of utilities.

In the Black Hills, power lines have caused not only the third-largest wildfire in the region’s history (the Legion Lake Fire) but also the second-largest (the Oil Creek Fire, in 2012).

And unlike lightning, which causes dozens of wildfires each year but is typically confined to the summer, power lines are a year-round wildfire threat. During the past five years in the Black Hills, wildfires caused by power lines have happened in each month of the year except February, and have happened most often in December.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Wildfires caused by power lines

This chart shows the 41 Black Hills wildfires caused by power lines since 2013, according to the Wildland Fire Division of the South Dakota Department of Agriculture. When other causes such as lightning and human activity are included, the total number of wildfires in the Black Hills since 2013 is 1,599 and the total acreage burned is 75,775.

Field 1 Field 2 Field 3
Victoria Rd #1 3/7/2018 0.10
Legion Lake 12/11/2017 54,023.00
Bug 12/11/2017 12.50
Twin Springs 12/4/2017 0.50
Powerline 11/30/2017 0.25
Mica 6/28/2017 0.50
Whitetail 3/8/2017 249.00
Thunderhead Falls 3/7/2017 0.10
Whitewood Hall 10/24/2016 0.10
Bald 10/16/2016 2.75
Rhubarb 10/14/2016 0.10
Thunderhead 7/13/2016 0.25
Dakota 7/7/2016 0.10
Tetrault 5/18/2016 0.10
Coon Hollow 4/5/2016 0.16
Airport 3/22/2016 0.30
Argyle Road 11/18/2015 5.00
Labor Day 9/7/2015 0.20
Jenney Gulch 8/22/2015 0.10
Dump 8/8/2015 0.10
Delzer 8/5/2015 2.60
Big Bowl 7/28/2015 0.14
Highline 7/26/2015 0.60
Tubbs Dam 7/16/2015 11.50
Mica 6/10/2015 0.10
Moonshine 4/1/2015 2,829.00
Alexander 3/29/2015 0.25
Battle 12/22/2014 0.10
Sunday Gulch 12/22/2014 0.50
Paramount 12/11/2014 5.10
Blue Bell 12/7/2014 1.50
Yellow Creek 5/27/2014 0.10
Pleasant Valley 5/18/2014 0.20
Hanna 4/26/2014 0.25
Chimney Canyon 4/8/2014 0.10
Hart Ranch 1/29/2014 1.90
Thrall 1/25/2014 0.60
Highway 16 1/24/2014 0.20
Skateboard 9/30/2013 0.30
Horse Creek 6/29/2013 0.10
Burgess 5/24/2013 0.25
TOTAL ACRES 57,150.60