Mines News

Release Date Monday, August 16, 2021

Fire Destroys Part of Mines Outdoor Living Laboratory Researchers Continue Study Incorporating Burned Area

Crews work to extinguish a small wildfire on the hill above South Dakota Mines that is home to the university’s new Living Lab. The fire caused between $5,000-$10,000 in damage, but research will move forward on the site. 

South Dakota Mines’ new outdoor Living Laboratory, which studies long-term erosion mitigation efforts, was hit by a grass fire in early August. The fire damaged nine of the 26 study units set up in the laboratory. The damage is estimated at $5,000-$10,000.

“They are repairable, but it will still take effort and resources that we don’t currently have available to fix the damage,” says Heidi Sieverding, a research scientist in the civil and environmental engineering department at Mines. The laboratory was funded through a grant from the West Dakota Water Development District (WDWDD).

There may be a silver lining: the long-term living laboratory study aims to improve mitigation efforts to reduce erosion and improve soil health. Because fire is a natural part of the landscape, researchers will incorporate the burned areas right into their ongoing study. The fire did not burn all the plots, so the study can now look at the impact of fire and fire suppression efforts on soil health and erosion control.

“We will definitely study how the test units reacted to the fire,” says Sieverding. “We plan on adding the fire-scarring into the learning experience.”

The Rapid City Fire Department needed about 700 gallons of water to extinguish the fire. This was sprayed on the area in a very short window of time, and as a result, changed the landscape. “The test units downhill from the fire captured nearly all the sediment that moved during the event. Many test units performed well in much more extreme conditions than expected,” Sieverding adds.

Mines officials give high praise to the Rapid City Fire Department for putting out this blaze so quickly. “We’re very thankful for the campus and community members who noticed the fire and alerted the Rapid City Fire Department. We also greatly appreciate the quick response by firefighters, which prevented the total loss of the laboratory,” says Mines President Jim Rankin.


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, Mike.Ray@sdsmt.edu

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