Peggy Sanders: Confluence Chronicles 8-22-11 |

Peggy Sanders: Confluence Chronicles 8-22-11

The air is heavy with smoke over our region this morning. Smoke from a forest and grass fire in rough country, 50 miles west of us, has drifted in over night. It looks like a heavy snow storm is coming, coupled with heavy fog, with the stench of fire. The pall it casts over the earth is compatible with the sad events of the past two weeks in the Black Hills.

For the first time in 96 years a policeman was shot and killed while on duty in Rapid City. His life was over at age 29. Another policeman in the same gun fight was critically injured and died four days later. His family donated his organs and a 27-year-old man in excellent health gave unbelievable gifts to many. The shooter was 22. He was also shot and died the following day. A third policeman was shot. According to the Chief of Police, the bullet entered in the temple, then went down through his jaw and lodged in his chest, where it remains. He has been released from the hospital. Two very major funerals were held complete with attendance of law enforcement personnel from across the country and the public as they paid their final respects. Our governor, U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives and others from their staffs were there. South Dakota is a small, intimate state where we are on first name basis with our state and federal governing team.

Then came the lightning – causing the fire mentioned above and the death of a 23-year-old trained wildland firefighter. He was caught with four others when embers from the fire above them were blown into grass below their position. Fire races up and the men were trapped and the fire truck mostly melted. The other four men were burned to some degree with one having to be airlifted to the burn center in Greeley, Colo. Our governor sent a state airplane to transport the fire fighter’s family to Greeley.

The fire is still raging and the battle continues with air tankers, helicopters, handcrews and anything else that can be thrown at it. The hot weather, low humidity and overabundance of fuel from good spring rains and downed timber from a few years’ ago tornado have given the fire plenty of ammunition to run.

In the middle of all this tragedy the Sturgis Rally and Races, an annual event that draws upwards of 80,000 visitors on motorcycles to the Black Hills, was going on. For the first time I can remember there was little coverage of that event. Outside of the fatalities of motorcyclists who unfortunately are often not accustomed to curvy roads and little traffic so they ride as fast as they can go and wreck abruptly.

As people pursue their chosen occupations and activities, things happen. Lessons are learned. Let’s just hope future experiences do not end in death.

Peggy writes from the Southern Black Hills. Contact can be made through

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