Area fire engines prepared to fight fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area will instead fight the fire blazing through the Black Hills National Forest.
Under the coordination of the DNR, engines from Garrison, Aitkin, Clarissa, Pine River, Motley and two from Crosby headed out Sunday toward Custer, S.D., to battle a blaze that has already scorched more than 62,000 acres. Engines were also sent from Carlton, Freedenberg, Cromwell and Scandia Valley. Each engine is manned with three firefighters.
The fire is 15 miles from Hill City, S.D., nine miles from Custer, S.D., and 12 miles from Newcastle, Wyo. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is at least 13 miles east of the fire's western perimeter.
Paul Peterson of the Brainerd region of the DNR, said the volunteer fire department engines were prepared in April to fight fire in the BWCA because the DNR has no heavy machines to fight forest fire, relying instead on light trucks to battle wild fires.
Thanks to a wet season, the BWCA area of downed trees never became ablaze.
"It's been fairly soggy so far in Minnesota," Peterson said. "If this was a dry year, we'd be looking for assistance from out west."
Peterson said the engines heading to the Black Hills are all heavy pumper fire engines designed for structure protection. The area firefighters will be protecting the small towns around the fire and the wildland-urban interface, where woods and structures meet and structures are particularly vulnerable.
"There was a need and we had them there," Peterson said. "We set them (the pumper trucks) up in anticipation of a needs for structure protection. Finally the system works."
The call for help from South Dakota came about 12:30 a.m. Sunday and the first six engines began making the 14-hour trek before noon Sunday, Peterson said. The DNR inspected each engine Sunday so officials would be able to recognize damage done in South Dakota after the trip, thus compensating each department.
Peterson said he was unsure when the engines would arrive in the Black Hills but their stay could last up to 14 days. Peterson said as soon as the fire is contained, departments will head home. The volunteer fire departments making the trip will be paid from the state.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)
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