Nebraska firefighters battle blazes in 7 countiesThe Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said the fires that began on Wednesday scorched an additional 58,000 acres in Nebraska, bringing the total acreage burned this year to about 300,000 acres — an area nearly the size of Los Angeles.
By: Grant Schulte , The Associated Press
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Crews toiled through stiff winds and drought conditions Thursday to contain wildfires in seven Nebraska counties.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said the fires that began on Wednesday scorched an additional 58,000 acres in Nebraska, bringing the total acreage burned this year to about 300,000 acres — an area nearly the size of Los Angeles.
Most of the fires were contained or nearly contained by Thursday afternoon, but strong winds were complicating some of the firefighting efforts. Fires were reported in Cherry, Holt, Knox, Boone, Merrick, Nance and Fillmore Counties.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency asked farmers to curtail their haying and harvesting until at least Friday, when the winds were expected to subside. But in a follow-up statement, officials said they will not impose fines on those who choose to continue.
"There is potential for any spark to become a flame with these high winds and dry conditions," said Al Berndt, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. "We have activated our fire watch and hope we don't see more situations like we saw yesterday. This will be a persistent problem until we get some moisture on the ground. We really could use some snow."
The roughly 70 residents of the tiny northern Nebraska town of Crookston were allowed to return home late Wednesday after a fast-moving wildfire threatened the area, said Valentine Fire Chief Terry Engles. On Thursday, crews were still battling fierce winds as they worked to control the blaze, which had moved southeast.
That fire started in South Dakota Wednesday afternoon, then crossed into Nebraska north of the town of Kilgore and moved on to the east and west sides of Crookston. It blackened about 75 square miles.
Engles said 50 to 60 firefighters have beaten down the flames around a fire line, but they keep reigniting. The National Weather Service issued a high wind warning for the region, saying gusts could reach 70 mph on Thursday.
"It keeps trying to get away from us," Engles said.
The fire in rural Cherry County was the largest of at the blazes that broke out in Nebraska, which has endured a series of wildfires in this summer's extreme heat and drought. No one has reported injuries from any of the fires, according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. Engles said a few outbuildings were damaged.
A wildfire in southeast Nebraska's Fillmore County destroyed two abandoned homes and seven outbuildings, said Sutton assistant fire chief John Schurman. It also destroyed an estimated 170 hay bales and 100 irrigation-pivot tires.
Schurman said firefighters were called around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and had the blaze contained by about 7 p.m. Crews remained on-scene through the night and into Thursday morning to prevent any flare-ups. Two families were evacuated Wednesday, but were allowed to return home later that evening. Investigators had not yet pinpointed a cause.
"With everything being so dry, this fire moved a lot faster than normal ones," Schurman said. "Usually, they'll get to a wet spot — a ditch, a place where the grass is green — and the flames will kind of die out. But this one ran. It ran way faster than any I've ever seen."
To the north, firefighters in Holt County have contained a fire that burned an estimated 500 to 600 acres of grassland, and destroyed a few small outbuildings. Two homes were evacuated, and the fire came within 5 feet of one house, but firefighters managed to save it.
The fire started about three miles west of Stewart and was stopped about one-and-a-quarter miles from the town, said Holt County Emergency Manager Deb Hilker. The cause was unknown as of Thursday morning.
Hilker said county crews on Thursday were planning to bulldoze a 1-mile-long stretch of trees where flames were still smoldering.
"It's just too hard for them to try to contain it in those trees when the wind is blowing this hard," she said. "You can't really get up to the hot spots at the top of the trees until you knock them to the ground."