Rapid City is located at the edge of the Black Hills, only a short drive from Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park. The city marks where the grasslands of the plains transition into the heavily wooded Black Hills. As a consequence, many residential areas share a boundary with undeveloped land, making a wildland-urban interface (WUI) fire a common threat.
To address the wildfire situation, Rapid City has taken a variety of steps towards becoming fire adapted under their “Survivable Space Initiative.” Efforts include:
- Pennington County Community Wildfire Protection Plan
- WUI Fire Hazard and Fuels Reduction Cost-Share Program
- Fuel reduction projects
- Combustible building material replacement
- Community Brush Clearing Day
- Assistance with specialized training for volunteer firefighters
- Educational seminars & informational videos for Homeowner Associations and neighborhood groups
- Firewise Demonstration Gardens
- Brush chipping program
- Homeowner mitigation assistance program
Efforts have been made possible by homeowners and firefighters. For example, Lt. Tim Weaver of the Rapid City Fire Department works closely with residents to implement needed thinning projects and cites community participation as a key to success. Weaver acknowledges, “Fire is part of the process. So if you’re going to live here, you have to prepare for it.”
Preparation for these thinning projects can be both labor intensive and financially burdensome. To encourage residents to take action, Rapid City has developed a program that provides financial assistance to homeowners. Rapid City’s program works in conjunction with a cost-sharing program made possible by a grant the city attained through the State of South Dakota which provides 50% of the thinning project’s cost.
Rapid City also has a brush chipping program. This program is run on a neighborhood basis in which the city provides a curbside chipping service in a “project area” where the homeowners drag the hazardous fuel to the curb. The material is taken to the city land fill where it is ground into compost for use by the surrounding communities.
Not only do projects like these help with the cost, it provides greater security to homeowners. When asked how a recent thinning project affected their property, a Rapid City resident replied, “We feel like we have a new lot here. And if a fire were to start on our property, we feel like it could be controlled, rather than spreading across our property up to the hill to our neighbors.”
In addition to these community driven projects, the city and partnering agencies including the South Dakota Dept. of Agriculture Wildfire division, the Dept. of Game and Fish, Bureau of Land Management, and the Great Plains Fire Safe Council have opened two Firewise demonstration gardens to give community members an example of how their landscapes and structures can look both appealing and yet remain fire resistant.
Story sources: Kevin Woster, “City prevention program promotes safety in forest developments,” Rapid City Journal (Oct. 2011).
Lieutenant Tim Weaver, Rapid City Fire Department
Photo credit: Rapid City Fire Department
Photo caption: Lieutenant Weaver displays the Survivable Space recognition plaque with a community member.