Red Flag Weather drives Douthit and West Ash Fires

Chadron and Crawford– Red Flag weather conditions, high temperatures, low humidity, and gusty winds created aggressive fire behavior today leading Forest Service, State and local fire officials and VFDs to jointly request Type 2 Team assistance.  As of 5:00 p.m. today both the Douthit and West Ash fires have grown significantly and are 0% contained.   A Type 2 Team has arrived and will assume command of the fire at 6:00 a.m. Thursday, August 30, led by incident commander, Joe Lowe from South Dakota. 

The Douthit Fire grew significantly from 200-250 acres this morning, and fire crew efforts are hampered by dense timber, rough canyons and inaccessible areas.  Both the Harrison and Crawford Volunteer Fire Departments (VFDs) remain on scene with more resources arriving.  Road closures include:  Rim Rock Road, Cottonwood Roads at both ends, and Sand Creek Road is closed at the county line.

The West Ash Fire also grew considerably from an estimated 150 acres this morning, and is burning in very rough, dense timber areas with steep, rugged canyons.  According to Karl Dailey, Dawes County Sheriff, “Bethel Loop has been evacuated, West Ash Road is closed.  East Ash Road is closed at Table and Bethel Loop.  I anticipate closure of more roads northeast of Bethel Loop due to current fire behavior.”

Sources stated that the fire jumped East Ash Road and is burning east.  An unconfirmed report indicates that one dwelling may have been lost, and structure protection has been provided to several other residences. 

Heavy smoke and smoke columns are visible from the Chadron area because of significant fuels build-up, known as “dead and down.”  According to John Griesinger, Pine Ridge District Ranger, these fuels lie in steep, rugged canyon areas and have accumulated since 1986 when the last fire burned in this area.  These large amounts of fuels result in heavy smoke columns, which have reached upper air currents and are now dropping ash in the Chadron area.  However, “At this time we want to assure Chadron residents that they are safe, with no imminent evacuations.”  

Fire updates will be issued as information is available.  Officials ask that travelers avoid all fire areas; but if travel is necessary, use caution and watch for fire vehicles. More thunderstorm and lightning activity is expected this evening.

The Douthit Fire is northwest of Crawford and approximately 10 miles north of Highway 20; and the West Ash Fire is approximately 15 miles southeast of Crawford.  Both fires were started by lightning from a Tuesday afternoon thunderstorm, and are burning on public and privately owned lands.

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