Custer State Park Fire Spreading Rapidly, Threatening Towns

CUSTER, S.D. (AP) — A wildfire in a popular South Dakota state park grew rapidly overnight, pushing beyond the park’s borders and threatening nearby communities, officials said Wednesday.

The fire in Custer State Park, which is just south of Mount Rushmore in the state’s southwest, grew from about 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) on Tuesday to about 55 square miles (142 square kilometers) on Wednesday and is 7 percent contained, the park said in a news release.

“From hearing the briefing this morning, a lot of these firefighters say they haven’t seen anything like this fire in 10 to 20 years,” said Kobee Stalder, the park’s visitor services program manager. “A lot of people are comparing this to a mid-summer fire.”

No homes or park buildings have been destroyed and crews succeeded in burning downed trees and grass between the fire and the State Game Lodge to protect the popular site. But the communities of Fairburn and Buffalo Gap, east of the park, remain threatened and residents of about 200 area homes have been evacuated or warned to evacuate, said Custer County Emergency Management director Mike Carter.

A small number of people were evacuated Tuesday from Legion Lake Lodge, the former Star Academy East Campus and Blue Bell Lodge.

The fire began Monday. Its cause is under investigation.

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