- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

WHITEWOOD, S.D. (AP) - Furniture maker Monte Pittman knew once a wind-driven fire pushed its way into his workshop north of Whitewood, there would be no stopping it.

Pittman lost a 36-foot-by-48-foot building, all of his woodworking tools and three vehicles to the early-morning blaze on Jan. 20.

But there’s no stopping Pittman either.

Building and selling custom-made indoor and outdoor furniture and other items under the name of PittSticks, Pittman was forced to scrap plans to exhibit at this month’s Black Hills Stock Show. But he still planned on being at the recent Black Hills Sport Show and Outdoor Expo.

He said he would display a few surviving pieces from his inventory, including a bar, gun cabinet, dresser, bookcase and small decorative boxes, all crafted from wood salvaged from trees killed by mountain pine beetles.

“We’re still up and running and able to keep producing. You just can’t stop. You have to keep moving,” he said in a recent afternoon as he set up his booth at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

The Black Hills Sport Show and Outdoor Expo typically features more than 100 vendors offering recreational vehicles, boats, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and outfitter gear filling the civic center.

For Pittman, pine beetles have been a bane and bonanza. Wood from the dying trees has a unique grey color.

“The only good thing the beetles accomplished is they gave character to pine that it didn’t have before,” he said.

“The downside of the beetle-kill pine is when this stuff catches fire, it’s so dry, it just burns like toilet paper,” he said.

That’s what happened to Pittman’s shop. Embers from a scrap pile fire he thought he had doused the day before were blown into dry lumber stacked next to the wood-frame building.

“I had hoses there. It was calm that day and I had soaked everything down like I always do and I would have bet big dollars that I had it all put out,” he said.

Not quite out, unfortunately.

Wind-swirled embers found the outside lumber and blew the flames into the shop, which contained another 2,000 to 3,000 board feet of more tinder-dry pine.

“We had 50 mile-per-hour winds. Between that and the fuel source, there was nothing you could do to stop it once it got there,” Pittman said.

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