A wildfire was stopped before reaching the Alaska oil pipeline, but lightning-sparked flames were whipped out of control in South Dakota, forcing 2,000 people to flee the famed Mount Rushmore National Memorial as fire blackened more than 350,000 acres in the West.
The most dangerous fire appeared to be the 8,000-acre blaze burning in South Dakota, where erratic winds sent the fire racing into the Black Hills National Forest on Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of the town of Keystone and the Mount Rushmore area, said Bob Slatkoski, a spokesman for the Custer County Sheriff's Department."It is under evacuation now," Slatkoski said Wednesday night. "With the tourist season and everything we're looking at about 2,000 people. The fire is totally out of control. The winds have been changing all the time."
The fire, feeding on acreage left bone-dry by the drought, was about 3 miles from Mount Rushmore, the granite mountain carving of four presidential faces, said Jerry Hagen, a spokesman for an interagency fire team.
Homes were in danger for the first time since the fire began Tuesday, Hagen said. One firefighter suffered a bruised leg and another suffered minor smoke inhalation.
"There are numerous public structures in the area northeast of the park," Hagen said. "It's burning very aggressively tonight and making more headway than it was this afternoon."
The evacuees were taken to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology College in Rapid City and the Rapid City civic center as well as private homes and motels, officials said.
About 800 firefighters battled the flames early Thursday. The erratic blaze consumed a milelong firebreak firefighters created that had encircled less than 5 percent of the inferno, Hagen said.