State park in South Dakota partially reopens after wildfire

December 18, 2017

FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2017, file photo, a firefighter walks by flames of the burn out fire that was set set while battling a blaze in Custer State Park in South Dakota. Custer State Park officials said Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, the wildfire is now about 90 percent contained. (Hannah Hunsinger/Rapid City Journal via AP, File)

CUSTER, S.D. (AP) — Custer State Park reopened on a limited basis Monday as firefighters worked to fully contain a wildfire that closed the popular South Dakota tourism attraction for a week.

Two main roads in and out of the park, U.S. Highway 16A and State Highway 87 South, as well as the visitors center reopened Monday morning. However, hiking trails and interior roads remain closed.

Kobee Stalder, the park’s visitor services program manager, said firefighters expect the wildfire to be 100 percent contained by the end of crews’ Monday shift.

The fire consumed more than 84 square miles (218 square kilometers) since it started from a downed power line on Dec. 11. Officials reported Sunday that fire was 95 percent contained.

Stalder said slightly more than half the park was burned. He said officials are clearing trees that have the potential of falling into roads.

“Today’s going to be a big assessment today,” Stalder said. “It’s our first day our staff is back being Custer State Park staff, rather than firefighters.”

The park just south of Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a top tourist destination, featuring hills with ponderosa pine and prairie. Visitors often drive through to see roaming buffalo and other wildlife.

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