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RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Waste piles from logging operations fueled a fire near a lake in South Dakota that grew to be the third largest wildfire in the Black Hills region’s history, according to a state meteorologist.

The Legion Lake fire originated near piles of unwanted tree tops left behind after logging, the Rapid City Journal reported . The Dec. 11 fire likely would not have grown as large without the debris, according to Darren Clabo, a state fire meteorologist.

“It would’ve been a little 7-acre postage stamp that we wouldn’t be talking about here today,” Clabo said at a conference Thursday.

Logging waste is typically destroyed by controlled burns when snow is on the ground.

The fire began when a tree fell onto a power line in Custer State Park, according to a fire investigator’s report. The blaze grew to more than 54,000 acres (21,800 hectares) over several days despite being spotted and reported quickly.

Dry conditions, lack of snow, low humidity and strong winds also contributed to the fire’s growth, Clabo said.

The largest December fire previously recorded in the Black Hills was only about 20 acres (8 hectares), Clabo said. Most of the area’s wildfires occur in July.

The fire also burned into Wind Cave National Park and privately owned land. No homes were lost and no one was killed, but some structures were destroyed, including fences, hay bales and pastures.

Some landowners affected by the fire said there’s been discussion of potential litigation, though no lawsuits have been filed.


This story has been corrected to show that the largest December fire recorded in the Black Hills was 20 acres, not the largest fire ever.


Information from: Rapid City Journal,