20 Years Ago the Largest Wildfire in South Dakota History was Raging
Twenty years ago, during a very hot dry summer, a match thrown from lighting a cigarette led to the largest wildfire in South Dakota History.
The Jasper Fire started on August 24, 2000. It raged for over two weeks until September 8 when it was finally contained by firefighters.
A New Castle, Wyo. woman, Janice Stevenson, was convicted of second-degree arson and sentenced for 25 years for the blaze. Stevenson admitted to lighting a cigarette and throwing the match into dry grass and pine needles. She also said that she could have put the fire out but did not.
The result was the burning of 83,503 acres of the Black Hills.
In 2018 I drew an elk tag and hunted extensively in the Jasper Fire area. It was like walking onto another planet. It was absolutely impossible for my brain to take in what I was seeing. Hundreds of still standing burned trees with thousands of fallen trees contrasted with the subsequent grassland that has filled it in. Below are the photos I took in October of 2018.
The most striking thing about the burned area is how the fire would get to a certain point and would stop. Not knowing if the still mature ponderosa pines were saved by the efforts of firefighters, a change in the wind, or both was fascinating to think about as I hiked around.