Deadwood directed to develop wildfire disaster plan

The Grizzly Gulch Fire of 2002 threatened many structures in Deadwood and left charred hillsides in its wake that are finally beginning to green up. Deadwood recently was presented with a Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) document to better prepare the city for wildfire. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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DEADWOOD — When the next wildfire nears Deadwood, city officials are apt to be more prepared, thanks to the recent completion of a Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) document.

A grant program that helps communities prepare for wildfire by identifying what’s at risk in the “wildland-urban-interface” and addressing those risks through improved land use planning strategies, recommendations were made to Deadwood city officials in a document presented to the commission May 21.

Deadwood Planning and Zoning Administrator Bob Nelson, Jr. said the planning process is likely worth between $10,000 and $15,000 in free services to the city.

“The process went very smooth and was well-organized,” said Nelson. “Number one, what the city got out of it was awareness of issues that we may or may not have been paying attention to in regard to wildfire. The biggest benefit was to have an outside perspective with professional expertise guiding us through it. Not being well-versed on these things, we relied on them.” 

As stated in the report, the Black Hills ecosystem is largely a fire-dependent landscape with frequent and significant fire occurrence, with the region experiencing fires regularly throughout history. In the years 1890, 1911, 1931, 1959, and 2002, notable fire activity was experienced in the area, with the city of Deadwood being directly affected by the 1959 Deadwood Fire and the 2002 Grizzly Gulch Fire.

The city of Deadwood was selected to receive technical assistance in 2018 from the CPAW team of professional land use planners, foresters, risk modelers, and researchers. Assistance varies based on a community’s needs and due to the timing of the city’s Comprehensive Plan update, currently in process, the team focused its work with Deadwood on including wildfire goals and policies in the next comprehensive plan.

“For them to have roundtable discussions with wildfire planners on wildfire prevention will be invaluable moving forward,” Nelson said. “The plan gives us tasks to do in the future. They said they felt the best thing to do, since we were in the process of developing our comprehensive plan, was to develop recommendations for policy or ordinance and for it to be published inn the comprehensive plan. That way, it keeps it in the forefront of staff, so we don’t forget about it.”

In order to develop the following recommendations, in April, the planning team met with members of the comprehensive plan committee, Deadwood Fire Department, and Lawrence County Planning and Zoning Department for a goal-setting exercise. These stakeholders shared historical references of past fires and information on current mitigation activities. Ultimately, the planning team combined this input with additional research and created these suggestions.

The number one suggestion, based on the need for community goals and policies to address wildfire, is to add information in the comprehensive plan to acknowledge wildfire as both a necessary natural disturbance and natural hazard.

Second, it was suggested that goals and policies be added into the comprehensive plan to prepare Deadwood for the next wildfire.

Goal one is for Deadwood leaders, residents, and businesses to be prepared for the next wildfire by knowing their roles and ensuring adequate resources are in place. This would be accomplished through the development of an organizational structure based on the incident command system and a community wildfire preparedness plan identifying key community roles required to continue all levels of critical government and non-government operations and services during and immediately following a wildfire (for example, finance, emergency response, utilities, healthcare, and food supply).

Goal two is for Deadwood residents, businesses, and visitors to be safe and secure during a wildfire. This will be accomplished through the development of a community evacuation plan that identifies and maintains evacuation routes and communicates emergency evacuation information to residents and visitors via directional signage and multiple access roads that are safe from anticipated hazards, for example. This goal also calls for partnering with businesses to develop evacuation and security procedures and working with neighboring communities to establish safe wildfire evacuation locations.

Goal three calls for Deadwood to quickly recover from a wildfire by having a post-disaster wildfire recovery plan in place.

Goal four calls for all emergency responders to be safe and uninjured during and after a wildfire event. This will be accomplished through adequate training and equipment, as well as the enforcement of existing building codes and the development of new wildland urban interface codes that prioritize life safety.

Goal five calls for Deadwood’s existing and future development, including landscaping, will be fire-resistant and fire-resilient to wildfire. This will be accomplished by requiring fire-resistant construction materials on future homes and neighborhoods, as well as the promotion of fire-resistant roofing materials and landscaping policies to require fire-resistant vegetation within 30 feet of homes to reduce wildfire ignitions in vegetation.

Goal six calls for Deadwood to coordinate with other land management partners to restore and maintain a healthy and diversified natural ecosystem to preserve the community’s scenery and reduce wildfire hazard.

Finally, it is recommended that the comprehensive plan be linked to other local hazard plans and partnerships; for instance, the Lawrence County Community Wildfire Protection Plan and others.

A rough draft of the comprehensive plan, including the CPAW document, is expected to be completed in June; the final document in July.

Nelson said that it is likely he and members of the Deadwood Volunteer Fire Department will identify the highest priority items and begin implementing the document once the comprehensive plan is finalized.

“Determining whether an item requires an ordinance change, changing policy or drafting a plan,” Nelson said.

CPAW was established by Headwaters Economics and Wildfire Planning International in 2015 and is funded by the Forest Service and other entities.

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