Beetle will burn Saturday

For nearly a decade, many have marched, crawled and gathered in the name of Burning Beetle. While this year will look a little bit different, the annual event continues.
This year’s event will be held Saturday, Jan. 16.
“The Burning Beetle was created to help the Custer community and the Black Hills come to grips with a beetle pandemic. 2020 had us facing another pandemic: a virus that infected and killed our friends and neighbors. If ever we’ve needed a way to come together safely and celebrate who we are as a community, it’s now,” said Hank Fridell, Burning Beetle organizer. “Custer is ready to light the Beetle! We need this pandemic to burn; we need to do it safely.”
Revelers who have torch- bearer tickets — and even those who just want to march with the group — will meet at the Custer Jr./Sr. High School parking lot. There is a limited number of tickets, available at the high school starting at 4 p.m. The cost for a ticket is $20.
At 5 p.m., everyone will march to Pageant Hill to burn the beetle and enjoy a fireworks display by Custer Volunteer Fire Department.
Fridell said safety at the event has always been held in high regard. This year will be no different.
“We’ve always needed to keep our distance from one another carrying torches and we will continue to do that, with masks added to help ensure our safety,” he said. “The Beetle will burn outside as the fireworks go off, as it always has, but with masks and enough area to spread out.”
In years past, in addition to the burning of the beetle, there has been a variety show and a pub crawl featuring live music. Due to COVID-19, there will not be an officially-sponsored crawl this year. But the variety shows will continue, with some changes.
The Burning Beetle Virtual Variety Show: Unmasked! will be aired throughout the day on Burning Beetle’s Facebook page ( and will be available to watch at a later time. Performers sent in their videos in the weeks prior for the show.
Before the Beetle is torched, Vigilance will be lit. Vigilance, the sculpture created by Jared “Cappie” Capp of Spearfish, was installed and dedicated in front of the community center (near Custer County Library) last year. At 4 p.m., the Custer High School Cross Country team will light the flame to ignite Vigilance and carry it across town.
While the Burning Beetle event has always been a way for the community to gather, there’s also a serious side to it as well.
“The bonfire and fireworks are a call, warning people to take action to stop insects and disease and the conditions that favor bark beetles and fires before they happen,” Fridell said. “Just because the bark beetle epidemic is over for now doesn’t mean threats to the forest have ended.”
People who live in the forest have to protect their homes and trees from a number of natural disasters, including fire and insects. Foresters recommend thinning trees to about 70 one-foot in diameter trees per acre in single trees and clumps and groups of three to seven ponderosa pines. Thinning allows light and air to circulate and helps maintain nutrients in the soil. Thinning trees helps mitigate wildfire impacts to property and living trees.
For more information, contact Fridell at

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