In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Department of Interior Sally Jewell, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today called on the National Park Service (NPS) to change its prescribed burn policies. Thune also called on the NPS to accept full liability for damages and expenses to individuals and local and state government entities and provide a timeline and process for reimbursement for the April 13 Cold Brook Fire that burned more than 6,500 acres in Wind Cave National Park.
“It’s been just over two years since landowners and ranchers suffered losses due to the Pautre Fire in northwest South Dakota resulting from an irresponsible prescribed burn set by yet another federal agency when extremely dry conditions and high fire danger were present,” said Thune. “The Cold Brook Fire started by the NPS is just another example of a federal agency taking questionable action without first collaborating with adjacent landowners and local and state officials. The NPS needs to accept responsibility for this fire, assume liability for damages and expenses, and change its burn policies. I am going to continue to hold the NPS accountable and look forward to seeing the agency’s response to my requested prescribed burn policy modifications and timeline for reimbursement.”
On April 13, 2015, the NPS conducted a prescribed burn in the southern portion of Wind Cave National Park, located in the Black Hills. The prescribed burn was intended to cover 1,100 acres; however, due to the extreme dry conditions present at the prescribed burn site, the Cold Brook Fire quickly escalated out of control consuming more than 6,500 acres of Wind Cave National Park.
The text of Thune’s letter is below:
April 16, 2015
Secretary Sally Jewell
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Secretary Jewell:
On April 13, 2015, the National Park Service (NPS) conducted a prescribed burn in the southern portion of Wind Cave National Park, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The prescribed burn was intended to cover 1,100 acres; however, due to the extremely dry conditions present at the prescribed burn site the fire, named the Cold Brook Fire, quickly escalated out of control consuming more than 6,500 acres of Wind Cave National Park.
In certain circumstances prescribed burns play an important role in federal lands management. However, when a prescribed burn is the recommended management tool, intentionally setting one for any reason in tinder dry forestland or grassland when extremely dry conditions exist is entirely unwarranted and inexcusable and once started has a high likelihood of burning out of control. Historically, carelessly set prescribed burns have resulted in unnecessary endangerment of firefighters, and have destroyed homes, personal property, and public lands.
I strongly urge a thorough and critical review of the Department’s prescribed burn policies and collaboration with local and state authorities and adjacent landowners prior to initiating any future burn. The current prescribed burn practice of following a “prescription” checklist before starting a fire obviously is not adequately preventing prescribed burns from being set in unsafe conditions that are resulting in out-of-control wildfires. There is an urgent need for you to do more to ensure that prescribed burns can continue to be used as a management tool without jeopardizing lives and property.
I fully expect the Department of Interior to assume complete liability for any damages caused as a result of the Cold Brook Fire. Even though the fire was contained to Wind Cave National Park property, I have been informed that fire lines were established on private property and that the intense smoke will likely damage the lungs of young calves in the vicinity resulting in high risk of pneumonia and death loss.
Within 30 days please provide me with a detailed plan for reimbursement to all who were damaged due to this fire, including private individuals, landowners, and local, county, and state entities who suffered economic losses or contributed resources to fighting this fire. Included in the requested plan please provide how claims will be established and processed, and the timeline for reimbursement.
The Cold Brook Fire could easily have been prevented and I strongly urge you to take whatever actions necessary to prevent future occurrences. I fully expect the Department to accept full responsibility and liability for the damages, losses, and expenses due to this fire.