Wind storm wreaks havoc
Published: Thursday, October 25th, 2012
Powerful winds that reached gusts of over 80 miles an hour ripped through the Black Hills last Thursday, starting fires, felling trees, knocking out power and covering Custer with trash and trash containers.
Some residents were without power for several hours. Mike Chase, manager of marketing and member services for Black Hills Electric Cooperative, said the co-op sent out its first crew last Wednesday at 8 p.m., a second crew by 11 p.m., and by 4 a.m. Thursday morning, it was all hands on deck dealing with power outages. Chase said power outages spread as far north as Lead and as far east as east of Fairburn. A thousand co-op customers were without power at the peak of the storm. The power was killed to some lines at the request of the Forest Service because lines were falling so quickly it was stretching firefighting resources too thin.
The wind cost the co-op six power poles. Black Hills Power poles also fell, two of them across highways—near Heritage Village north of Custer on Hwy. 16 and south of town on Hwy. 385 near Gray Rocks Road.
Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler said he had 65 messages on his cell phone about problems in the county. He too, called all hands on deck to deal with problems that sprang up throughout the day.
“It think it went really well. All resources came together to contain it as much as we could,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.
Perhaps the biggest problem caused by the wind was several fires that sprang up, including The Fork Fire and the Glen Erin Fire that became the largest and most volatile.
The Fork Fire began early Thursday morning near Renegade Pass and North Pole Road northwest of town and burned 353 acres before it was 100 percent contained Sunday. The fire sent up a large plume of smoke and forced the evacuation of some residents, a precautionary move taken because of winds that were sustained at 60 miles per hour throughout the day.
The Glen Erin Fire, which burned southeast of Custer, didn’t get nearly as large and was contained Thursday. One firefighter from the Minnekahta Volunteer Fire Department experienced heart problems while fighting that fire and was Life Flighted to Rapid City Regional Hospital.
Federal, state and local fire departments from all around the area assisted in fighting the fires. The wind also caused temporary closure of theâï¿½ï¿½Needles Highway because of trees falling into the road.
In Custer, trash and dumpsters blew around the streets and alleys, and trees were uprooted in lawns. The city never lost power, however, and for the most part avoided any major problems caused by the wind.
“We were pretty dull,”âï¿½ï¿½city public works director Bob Morrison said.âï¿½ï¿½“The first thing (Thursday) morning I had the guys sharpen the chain saws and get ready.”
On the southeast side of town, Jay Noem said he was awakened by a bang and screaming from his son, Jace, at 2:30 a.m. When he ran into his room, he saw a 16 foot 1x10 piece of pine siding that the wind had picked up and pushed through the wall of the home. It stopped just short of his son’s bed.
“It sounded like a gunshot,” Noem said. “The whole house shook.”
Noem pulled the board out the next day and temporarily patched the hole, which measured one foot by one foot inside the house. The board also hit an outlet, causing it to explode.
Custer County emergency management director Mike Carter said when officials saw the high winds forecast, they begin to prepare for the events that could happen the next day.
“When you have a fire that’s threatening structures, that’s going to take priority over any other call,” he said.âï¿½ï¿½“When you see that forecast, you think of utility problems and, in this country, trees across the road. Fire is always a potential when you have that high of wind.”
Chase said all the co-op’s customers had power restored by Friday afternoon, including well taps and seasonal accounts. Calls from the Chronicle to Black Hills Power were not returned.
“We had a great response locally and from folks outside the area,” said Forest Service Hell Canyon District Ranger Lynn Kolund. “We appreciate the patience of the residents of Custer. We had some folks pretty nervous about things. Understandably so, with that wind.”
Click Here To See More Stories Like This