Cause of devastating prairie fire might never be known

Farm Forum

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — The cause of a prairie fire that burned 64 square miles of grassland and killed nearly 300 cattle in western South Dakota last month might remain a mystery.

The Cottonwood Fire east of Rapid City scorched private land, state land and part of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. It destroyed numerous rural buildings. No one was hurt.

Authorities said the fire was caused by a human, but that the precise cause might never be known. U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Kurt Tindel told the Rapid City Journal that officials don’t think the fire was intentionally set.

“This was absolutely not the fault of the producers at all. They were doing everything they could to save their cattle. Conditions were not in our favor,” said Adele Harty, South Dakota State University Extension cow-calf field specialist.

Harty said many of the dead cattle burned to death, while others survived but later had to be euthanized because of injuries.

“Not all of these (cows) died, but they would not be productive females come next year,” Harty said.

According to Harty although she doesn’t anticipate the number of cattle lost to rise, the losses for producers is exceptionally high. This comes at a time when sale prices for livestock are low. Harty said producers needed the lost cattle to produce more for next year.