The last of the 2,000 people driven from their homes by a South Dakota forest fire returned Saturday after firefighters contained the blaze that destroyed 15 houses, and the worst fires in Yellowstone National Park since the 1600s calmed down.
"It was close," fire information officer Michele Case said Saturday of the six-day fire that blackened 3,840 acres on the western edge of Rapid City, S.D. "People in this community were real nervous for a couple of days."A second, smaller fire broke out Saturday in the Black Hills National Forest near Rapid City, about four miles from the larger fire. Officials said the fire of undetermined origin had burned 30 acres by early evening and a few people in the area left their homes.
Forest fires also raged Saturday in Washington, Idaho and Montana, but crews contained a 200-acre blaze in Wisconsin and a 5,400-acre grass fire in a rugged area of western North Dakota.
The blazes in Yellowstone had burned 107,000 acres in the 2.2 million-acre park.
Officials hoped to have the Rapid City fire controlled by Sunday evening. The first 100 firefighters to be released left Saturday. More than 1,000 firefighters remained on duty to extinguish hot spots.
The arson fire, which broke out Tuesday, destroyed 42 outbuildings and more than 40 vehicles. Damage was estimated at $1.3 million.
Firefighters, many of them from small volunteer fire departments, saved an estimated 100 homes and other property worth $4.2 million by pouring water on them while flames passed, officials said.
The fire burned to within a few feet of Gene Ickler's home but did not damage it.
"You feel like doing a cartwheel to see your home standing," said Ickler, who was among the evacuees. But the trees that were once part of his view "look like black toothpicks," he said.
State and local law enforcement agencies appointed a task force to find the arsonist. Rewards for information leading to an arrest grew to at least $17,000.
The southern entrance to Yellowstone, closed for a week because of fires, will reopen Sunday, said park spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo.
By Saturday, the Grant Village and Old Faithful complexes of stores, visitors' centers and campgrounds in the park in northwestern Wyoming were considered well protected, fire officials said.