Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Fire behavior in ponderosa pine regeneration. NPS photo by Valena Hofman.

Fire After Fire: A Successful Prescribed
Fire Follows Wildfire

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
National Fire Plan, Fuels Reduction*

On September 4 and 5, 2009, fire management staff at Wind Cave National Park completed a 631-acre prescribed fire adjacent to the park's visitor center. The area burned in a high severity wildfire in 1991 resulting in significant amounts of dead and down fuel on the forest floor. The Headquarters West prescribed fire project succeeded in reducing the fuels by more than 60% and reduced the threat of another high severity wildfire near the park headquarters.

Monitoring of the area prior to the fire found more than 3,500 ponderosa pine seedlings per acre. Surveys immediately following the prescribed fire suggest that the fire successfully reduced the high density of seedlings. At the same time, few of the larger overstory trees were killed by this fire. Initial estimates showed less than 30% mortality in this size class. Overall, the prescribed burn resulted in a mosaic of low to moderate burn severity. This combination of effects will create a balance of age classes in the forest and maintain an open, park-like stand.

The Headquarters West project is immediately above one of America's longest caves. It is hoped that by reducing the fuel load and the density of trees, water flow into the cave will improve. Park scientists will continue to monitor this project to assess the hydrological effects on the cave system.

The Headquarters West Prescribed Fire brought together fire professionals from several neighboring agencies. The state of South Dakota, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest assisted the National Park Service in completing this project. This interagency partnership benefits the natural resource management in the Black Hills by helping to foster cooperation across ownership boundaries.

Contact: Dan Swanson, Fire Ecologist, NGP Fire Management
Phone: (605) 745-1172

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.