Foresters, range scientists, firefighters, and other members of Professional Forest Management’s large family of experts are working to reduce fire risk in the Black Hills, especially around our most vulnerable communities, officials said.
Frank Carroll, general manager and co-owner with Van Elsbernd of Fort Collins, CO, said that much of the Black Hills is in high risk areas and much work is needed to save our communities from huge catastrophic fires.
The Forest Service and local counties working with State government, especially the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division led by Jay Esperance, developed maps and fire plans that show the problem clearly, Carroll said.
Carroll wrote recently:
We’re entering the 18th year of this beetle attack. We’ve spent our time and treasure on fighting the beetle, and nothing dealing with the emotional impacts of one of the biggest changes to the physical aspect of the Black Hills in our lifetimes. Tens of millions of dead trees and people are traumatized, much in the way people were traumatized in the wake of the ’88 Yellowstone fires.
So we spent the year 2013 following a Canadian model used in Colorado and elsewhere of creating a series of events, celebrations, craft shows, music events, book readings, parades to help people understand what’s happening and then get through the sequential steps in the grieving process. This is the final act. We are using blue stained, bug killed timber to build a thing of beauty and power (as an icon) and then we are going to gather in the spirit of mobs with torches of old (with real oil soaked rag torches) and burn this symbol of our disquiet as an act of acceptance and renewal.
In Santa Fe, they burn an 80 foot effigy of Zozobra, a fully articulated paper and wooden monster with rolling eyes and flailing limbs who represents all the bad things of the past. In the ashes of the fire they find renewal and the spirit to rise to meet the new year.
In Nevada they have the Burning Man epic with the same intent; to create a symbol of that which plagues us and then to use fire to symbolically wash it all away.
Our community is now the epicenter of the beetle attack, just as it was in 1909. Custer Mountain has suffered over 80 percent dead trees due to this beetle. In every direction we see the red dead trees. Can’t do much about it, but we can face it, admit it, accept it, pray it will end, and then let out a primal scream – or bonfire (good fire) – and move on with renewed hope. It’s about recognizing and accepting and moving on, all in a night of fireworks, a funeral pyre and wake, followed by several hours of music in five venues, food, drink, and contemplation.
Another angle more ominous is that fire, in the end, will be the vehicle that completes the change wrought by the beetle. Towns like Hill City and Spearfish and Custer will face serious severe fire activity as natural processes like lightning ignite tens of thousands of acres of dead forest, much of it on the ground where it will burn, just as the wooden beetle will burn. And we will rise from those ashes with what strength we have as well.
Beetles and fire are the forces that shape the Black Hills. In the past 18 years we have seen both at work in spades. I believe the beetle attacks are in their final stages…for now. Next come the fires.
So there is much afoot on Saturday, January 18, seen and unseen, known and unknown, and all of it visually and intellectually interesting.
We’re going to burn a 28 foot long master work of wood and emotion on a funeral pyre. The pictures alone will be worth the story.
This media event tomorrow will help people understand the level of at least one community’s commitment to accepting life on life’s terms and moving on. We’ll be laying the final planks and adding the final touches. The people who worked so hard to get this done will be there.
I think it’s a story people will find interesting and many Black Hillians can also relate. It’s also a way for other communities to think about dealing with disaster when all you can do is get up and keep going.