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‘Active and dangerous scene’: Mount Rushmore closed, 400 homes evacuated as multiple wildfires spread in South Dakota

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“Dangerous” wildfires have spread through the area just outside Mount Rushmore on Monday, closing the monument and neighborhoods in Rapid City, South Dakota, while fire crews battle threatening high winds.

One blaze, named the Schroeder Road fire, was estimated to be under 1,000 acres, incident commander Rob Powell said during a news conference Monday afternoon. At least 400 people have been evacuated, but no injuries have been reported. About 250 firefighters responded to fight the fire in 50 to 72 mph winds. 

“This is a very active and dangerous scene, Law Enforcement requests that citizens stay out of the area, and use alternate routes,” a Pennington County Sheriff’s Office news release posted on Facebook said.

Two additional blazes were burning southwest of Rapid City, near Keystone, with one covering an estimated 75 acres and the other 20 acres, and led to road closures and the closure of Mount Rushmore, according to police.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said at a Monday afternoon press conference that the now fire is not threatening Mount Rushmore at this time.

She arrived in Rapid City Monday to “oversee the response efforts” to both fires. The cause of both fires is currently unknown. 

Noem said the Schroeder fire started on private property and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized federal funds for fighting the Schroeder fire.

“There has been losses and that is tragic for these families,” Noem said. “But the priority needs to be to keep people safe and getting these fires put out.”

Authorities said several outbuildings had been destroyed as well as two residences. 

The fires are burning timber with very high potential for spread due to elevated winds, according to the Rapid City Journal. High winds knocked out power for Black Hills residents, power company Black Hills Energy said on Twitter.

As of noon CT, winds shifted to the southeast as a cold front moved through, but gusts were expected to be up to 60 mph through the afternoon, National Weather Service meteorologist Katie Pojorlie said. 

And with northwesterly winds expected to increase to 25 to 35 mph with gusts to 45 mph, the National Weather Service in Rapid City have extended a red flag warning through Tuesday for the region.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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