By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican
Hot, dry conditions were taxing firefighters and other personnel working to contain the fires near the Niobrara River in north-central Nebraska.
In the midst of the hot work are five firefighters from this area, four members of the Imperial Volunteer Fire Department and one from the Lamar department.
Aaron Greene, Duane Todd, Bryan Dannatt and Greg Dannatt are there from the IVFD. Also making the trip to the Ainsworth area was Tyler Stanley of the Lamar Volunteer Fire Department.
Each department took a grass firefighting, quick-attack rig to the scene.
In Wednesday morning’s daily update from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the blaze had already covered 72,405 acres and was just 25 percent contained.
Caused by lightning that struck the dry grass Friday morning, the fire has grown into three separate fires.
The Fairfield fire had already burned approximately 66,745 acres by Wednesday and straddles the river.
The Wentworth fire is burning 20 miles east of the Fairfield Creek fire and three miles north of the river, where it was estimated Wednesday to have burned 3,278 acres.
A new fire started Monday about six miles east of the Wentworth fire and is three miles north of the river. Labeled the Hall fire, it was estimated at 2,382 acres in size.
Imperial Fire Chief Nick Schultz said he was contacted by the fire chief in Ainsworth late Monday afternoon to see if the IVFD could assist.
Schultz requested a non-emergency call be dispatched to the IVFD members, who gathered at the fire hall to see who might be able to go.
Greene and Todd left about 7 p.m. Monday to head to the fire scene, while Greg Dannatt and Stanley left later that night.
Bryan Dannatt, who is a part-time instructor with the Nebraska Fire Service, went earlier to assist.
Gov. Dave Heineman surveyed the burning areas in Brown and Keya Paha Counties on Saturday and again Tuesday, and activated the State Emergency Operations Plan. He also met with emergency responders in Ainsworth, Long Pine and Norden.
On Saturday, it was estimated the fire was six to seven miles wide as it moved through Keya Paha County, north of Highway 12.
The Nebraska National Guard has been called in to mobilize available resources, including several Black Hawk helicopters equipped with “Bambi buckets” to dump water on needed areas as directed by the ground firefighters.
Two teams of Red Cross volunteers from North Platte and Grand Island were also sent to the scene to provide meals and hydration to firefighters, that as of early this week, represented more than 30 departments.
On Tuesday, it was announced by the Nebraska State Patrol that Highway 12 from the Keya Paha County line to the Cherry Counry Line (Springview to Valentine) is closed.
Travelers headed to South Dakota were encouraged to avoid Highway 12 and Highway 7 in north central Nebraska at this time.
Highway 83 and 183 remain open for travel.
Volunteer evacuations were in place for Meadville, and the Niobrara River is closed for recreational use between the County Line and Brewer bridges.
Fire stats at a glance
- Start Date—July 20, 2012
- Containment—25 percent
- Acreage—72,405 total (Fairfield 66,745; Wentworth, 3,278; Hall, 2,382)
- Personnel—321, plus approximately 80 Rural Fire Department personnel
- Crews—six crews on the fire line
- Cooperating agencies—Brown, Keya Paha and Cherry County Sheriff Offices, State of Nebraska, Ainsworth, Springview, Valentine, and Wood Lake VFDs, Nebraska National Guard, Nebraska State Fire Marshall, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, Nebraska State Patrol, National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy and American Red Cross
- Aviation—Six heavy-lift helicopters, one medium, one light.
- Engines—30, plus 40 Rural Fire Department engines
- Injuries—3 (minor)
- Structures destroyed—10 and associated outbuildings
- structures/outbuildings threatened—128