Punishing winds Thursday overturned semitrailers, downed power lines, destroyed property, closed roads, fed fires and even left a trampoline hanging from a power pole in Box Elder.

The highest recorded gust in the area — 81 mph — was reported at 10:56 a.m. in Rapid City, according to the National Weather Service. Gusts of more than 70 mph were reported throughout western South Dakota on what was certainly the windiest day of the year.

Officials closed Custer State Park's Needles Highway because of falling trees. The highway is expected to reopen today.

While many in the Black Hills awoke to roaring winds, public safety personnel were already busy responding to the aftermath.

"We're having a lot of issues with downed power lines here in the city," Brent Long, Rapid City Fire Department spokesman, said Thursday morning. "These power lines are due to tree limbs being blown on to some of them, and some of those limbs have started on fire."

By mid-Thursday, the Rapid City Fire Department had responded to 16 downed power lines.

None of those fires in Rapid City took off, Long said.

It was a different story, however, in rural areas.

"They're running to grass fire after grass fire after grass fire out in the county," Long said.

The biggest fire was the 100-acre Fork Fire, burning on federal and private land about five miles west of Custer. It was reported about 6 a.m. and was zero percent contained by Thursday afternoon. The nearby Renegade Pass Road subdivision was evacuated, and structure protection was in place to protect the homes.

"All resources are aggressively working to catch this fire,” Lynn Kolund, Hell Canyon District ranger, said in a prepared statement.

The Glen Erin Fire, three miles southeast of Custer, had burned 30 acres and was estimated at 5 percent contained Thursday afternoon. About 20 residents were put on evacuation notice, but none were evacuated.

Another grass fire was being fought west of Spearfish near Interstate 90, closing the highway temporarily from Exit 10 to the Wyoming border, according to Safe Travel USA. The MM4 Fire reached 15 acres before it was contained at 4 p.m.

Fires were also reported near Sheridan Lake Road, Palmer Gulch, Piedmont, Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park and Pactola Reservoir. None were larger than two acres, according to South Dakota Wildland Fire.

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Downed power lines led to outages that closed Pennington County Courthouse for the day and left about 5,000 people in the Black Hills without power.

Crews were busy restoring power to customers throughout the Hills, with particular attention focused on hard-hit pockets in Deadwood, Hill City, Custer and Rapid City, according to Black Hills Power spokesman Mutch Usera.

"We've been restoring power as the outages are identified," he said.

The loss of power caused issues for between 100 and 150 Midcontinent Communications customers in Rapid City who lost service because of power outages that affected telecommunications. None of Midco's own overhead service lines were harmed.

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"None of those came down," said Tom Simmons, Midco's senior vice president of public policy.

The fierce morning winds also toppled four semis on I-90 in Jones County and another one at Elk Vale Road in Rapid City. Semis also rolled in Haakon and Jackson counties.

The driver in the Elk Vale Road accident was injured, and the truck struck a traffic light at the intersection.

Power outages affected other traffic lights at some intersections. By mid-morning, all lights were working again, according to Tarah Heupel, Rapid City Police Department spokeswoman.

In Box Elder, where the strongest reported wind gust was 72 mph, an apartment building lost a section of its roof, and a trampoline got hung up on top of a power pole in the Ashland Heights neighborhood. In downtown Rapid City, the wind brought down a large sign on the Wells Fargo bank.

A wind storm such as Thursday's only happens every few years, according to Jeff Johnson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"It's not unusual for us to get a wind storm like this in the fall or winter time. We don't necessarily see them every year, but we will see them every couple years," he said.

Today should see a return to more typical fall weather in the Black Hills.

“We're not expecting much wind tomorrow," Johnson said, adding that high temperatures should be the mid 60s

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Contact Aaron Orlowski at 484-7069 or aaron.orlowski@rapidcityjournal.com

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