March 30 (UPI) — Quickly spreading wildfires in South Dakota on Monday forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents near Rapid City and closed the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Strong wind gusts of up to 60 mph fanned the Schroeder Road fire to within a few miles of the western edge of Rapid City, prompting the evacuations of up to 500 homes, state fire officials officials said. No injuries were reported.
The blaze began Monday morning on private property and quickly spread into a residential subdivision, incident commander Rob Powell told reporters at an afternoon news conference.
“It’s still moving pretty good down in those deep canyons,” he said. “Evacuations are in place through numerous subdivisions. It’s a tough area to get into but we’re trying our best to protect the homes and outbuildings.”
The high winds grounded tactical aircraft for use against the wildfire, which had grown to an estimated 800 acres by late afternoon. Around 250 firefighters were involved in the effort to contain it.
“There have been losses and that is tragic for these families,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said. “But the priority needs to be to keep people safe and getting these fires put out.”
“At this point, the fire is spreading to the south, no longer heading right for [Rapid City],” Mayor Steve Allender tweeted. “Of course that could change…”
Another blaze, dubbed the Keystone fire, forced the closure of highways leading into the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office reported.
Noem said Mount Rushmore itself was not under direct threat from the 75-acre fire.