Crews focus on cleanup as Neb., SD wildfires waneOMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Crews turned their focus Wednesday to cleanup efforts in an area scorched by three massive wildfires in northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota.
By: MARGERY A. BECK, The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Crews turned their focus Wednesday to cleanup efforts in an area scorched by three massive wildfires in northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota.
Two of the blazes in the Nebraska Panhandle saw no growth in the previous 24 hours and remained 85 percent contained Wednesday morning, a fire team reported. Emergency crews were optimistic that a third fire in Nebraska and South Dakota would be fully contained before the end of the day.
Firefighters were expected to spend the day patrolling the areas, mopping up hotspots and maintaining the fire line to prevent any flames from spreading.
Lighting sparked the fires Aug. 28 and the flames spread quickly over the tinder-dry, drought-ravaged terrain, forcing the evacuation of several communities and threatening hundreds of homes and farm buildings.
Two fires in Dawes and Sioux counties, called the Douthit and West Ash fires, burned nearly 138 square miles of mostly grasslands and pine trees. A third fire to the east in Sheridan County, dubbed the Wellnitz fire, crossed into South Dakota, and had burned a total of 120 square miles, including 44 square miles in South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Messages left Wednesday for Oglala Sioux Tribal Chairman John Yellow Bird Steele were not immediately returned.
An emergency response team was looking Wednesday at ways to prevent water runoff that could damage roads, bridges and buildings. The fires destroyed a large amount of vegetation that usually helps minimize runoff.
"The number one priority of (the team) is the protection of life and property," said team leader Matthew Lucas.
The team is working with the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and U.S. Forest Services.
Chadron State Park near Chadron and the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Research and Visitor Center near Crawford remained closed Wednesday.