Posted by KILI Radio 90.1 FM on Wednesday, February 12, 2020

'The radio station means so much': Beloved institution survives fire on Pine Ridge Reservation

Ruth Cedar Face was getting ready to make dinner Friday afternoon when one of her children came into the house and said there was a fire.

Cedar Face walked outside her home just north of Wounded Knee to see a massive plume of smoke and flame rising above a butte to the north. The butte is the home of the Pine Ridge Reservation’s radio station, KILI.

Even as firefighters and police drove toward the flames, Cedar Face feared the worst.

“It just totally overtook the butte in a matter of minutes,” said the 52-year-old Oglala Lakota woman. “We were kind of scared because KILI is up there.”

Posted by Ruthie Cf on Friday, April 10, 2020
Ruth Cedar Face: Pine Ridge Reservation Fire

But within minutes, the fire had moved to the east and away from the butte. And as the smoke cleared, Cedar Face could see buildings remaining.

“When the smoke cleared, the radio station was just standing,” she said.

The grass fire started after a man burning his garbage near the butte lost control of the fire, said Charlie New Holy, a DJ at KILI radio. The fire started around 3 p.m. local time on Friday, he said.

The radio station is still standing. Prayers!

Posted by Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart on Friday, April 10, 2020
Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart: 'The radio station is still standing. Prayers'

Another DJ who was working in the radio station when it started put on a playlist so the radio station would continue broadcasting and was then taken out of the building a police officer, said New Holy, who lives about two miles south of the radio station.

He said another DJ called him to tell him about the fire and to ask him to drive up to the radio station and check on the building and the DJ who was working that afternoon.

So New Holy jumped into his car and drove north, but he was stopped by police who set up a blockade south of the radio station.

“It was a lot of smoke, a lot of smoke,” he said.

Several nearby residents, including Cedar Face, posted videos Friday of the fire that showed flames quickly moving up the side of the butte and over the radio station buildings. One video showed heavy flames engulfing pine trees and grass as it made its way up the butte.

When the smoke cleared, New Holy drove up to the radio station to find the building largely undamaged, he said. The fire had nearly reached a deck and the building’s north wall. He said firefighters had managed to spray water around the building to protect it from the fast-moving fire.

He said heavy winds pushed the fire quickly up the butte and off to the east.

The radio station’s interior smelled heavily of smoke, he said. But the radio station’s equipment, including expensive cables that run underground and connect the station to solar panels and an antenna, appeared to be undamaged. A wind turbine, solar panels and propane tank on the property also were undamaged.

Posted by Ruthie Cf on Friday, April 10, 2020
Ruth Cedar Face: Pine Ridge Reservation Fire

He said no one, including the DJ working at the time of the fire, was injured.

“Everything seems to be good at this point,” he said. “We’re up, and we’re running. We’re still live, and we’re still playing music.”

Cedar Face, who once worked as a DJ at the radio station in the 1980s, said KILI radio is primary source of news and information for many residents on the sprawling reservation. Many people don’t have smart phones or internet access and aren’t able to get information any other way, she said.

“I think the radio station means so much to the reservation,” she said.

Join the Conversation