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Wildfires in South Dakota Force Residents to Evacuate

Aired June 30, 2002 - 22:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: But right now, we've got some breaking news. Wildfires rushing through the Black Hills of South Dakota have forced residents and tourists to evacuate. I'm joined on the phone right now by Tom Nelson, mayor of Lead, South Dakota, where much of the town has been evacuated.

Mayor Nelson, thanks for joining us.

MAYOR TOM NELSON, LEAD, SOUTH DAKOTA: My pleasure.

LIN: We're hearing some 10,000 to 15,000 people have been evacuated. What are seeing there?

NELSON: That would probably be correct. We've evacuated parts of Lead. More because we need to be able to get crews into outlying areas, than actual threat to the city at this point.

LIN: And I understand the South Dakota National Guard is on the scene, too?

NELSON: They are. They're helping out, as well as the Highway Patrol and some federal units as well.

LIN: So it sounds like the evacuation went smoothly, but it also seemed like there was break in the fire. And then suddenly it turned in the late afternoon. What happened?

NELSON: The fire really has two fronts. It's going south out of Deadwood. I was in Deadwood, in and out last night. And it had burned down to many people's houses and gardens, but the firefighters kept it at bay. I think they only lost two or three structures in Deadwood.

And then this morning, you know, as it moved down the back of the fire started back up the hillside. We're in a very rough mountainous terrain. And so, I just came up the hillside into the back part of Lead.

LIN: Mayor, where are you right now?

NELSON: I'm at City Hall.

LIN: You're at City Hall. So you're still in town. Are you in any danger? NELSON: Not -- no immediate danger, no.

LIN: All right. So what's the prognosis for this fire? Do you think these firefighters can hold it back?

NELSON: Absolutely. They're doing a tremendous job. We have -- we still have about an hour of daylight here. We have some slurry bombers out that have been putting them down to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fires very well, as well as dusting the back of the town. They've painted a few houses, but the suppressants will keep the fire from coming into the residential area.

LIN: Touch and go there. I understand there's a federal fire team coming in tomorrow?

NELSON: That's what I understand. I haven't been down to the command point, which is about three miles from here for a few hours, but I'm going to head down there as soon we're done.

LIN: So what does it mean when the federal team takes over?

NELSON: I'm not really sure. I've only been there a couple months, so I'm learning as well.

LIN: All right. Well, we're all learning a lot about the fire season...

NELSON: Yes.

LIN: ...this year, which looks pretty bad. Do you know yet the cause of this fire?

NELSON: No. There's been speculation, but I'm not going to say. It could be any one of several things.

LIN: All right, speculation because the last two major fires we've been covering were started by arson.

NELSON: Yes, this -- we've just had a very, very dry summer. There's a lot of fuel in the forest. We have some -- a lot of down timbers and things that haven't been able to be taken care of for quite a while. And it could be a number of things that did it.

LIN: All right, Mayor Nelson, you sound like a very calm man. It's good to hear to comforting voice. And I hope you stay safe tonight.

NELSON: Carol Lin, thank you for calling.

LIN: All right, we'll keep our fingers crossed for Lead, South Dakota.

NELSON: Thank you.

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