Opal, South Dakota Firefighter Dies From Severe Burns

Courtesy The Rapid City Journal, South Dakota

ST. PAUL, Minn. - A volunteer firefighter who was burned severely last week while battling a wildfire in Meade County died Tuesday.

David Martin, a firefighter with the Opal volunteer fire department, died at 2:30 p.m. MDT in the burn unit at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

Martin and other local volunteers were fighting a grasslands fire in east-central Meade County on Thursday when Martin fell off a brush truck, directly into the path of oncoming flames.

He was flown to Rapid City Regional Hospital and later transferred to the burn center at Regions Hospital, where he remained in critical condition with burns over 80 percent of his body until his death Tuesday.

An arrest was made at 1 p.m. Tuesday in connection with the fire, one of several suspicious fires to break out in a three- or four-mile stretch of Red Owl Road between Red Owl and Marcus.

Ray Wicks, 71, of Red Owl, was charged with third-degree arson and aggravated assault.

Wicks was released on $5,000 bond Tuesday. His initial court appearance is set for Aug. 19.

Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said the charges may change because Martin died.

The Meade County sheriff, state Division of Forestry, state fire marshal, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, state Division of Criminal Investigation and investigators from the Rapid City Fire Department investigated Thursday's fire.

Carlson said the last firefighter to die on duty in South Dakota was Robert Buehler, a 62-year-old firefighter with the Delmont Fire Department who was burned by a wildfire in March 2000.

Carlson said Martin was only the fourth South Dakota firefighter to die on duty in the past 25 years.