September 2, 2014

Wildfires near containment, the bills now coming due

Photo by Julie Becker-Owens

It appears a week-long battle against wildfires in north-central Nebraska that have burned more than 100 square miles has gotten the fires under control. Now, the bills are coming due.

The largest fire, The Fairfield Creek fire, is largely contained with crews hitting hot spots. It has burned anywhere between 60,000 and 100,000 acres. The Hall fire in southeastern Keya Paha County has been contained.

The Wentworth fire has been a bit more stubborn. Winds shifted Thursday evening, fueling the fire which jumped a fire line and headed toward the Rock County line. Fire crews kept it from reaching the Niobrara River. Firefighters hope to take advantage of a shift in wind direction and use “back burns” to contain the fire.

Region 24 Emergency Manager Doug Fox credits the hard work of “hot shot crews” in turning the corner on the fires. Fox says the crews from South Dakota, New Mexico and Idaho have made a big impact in the week-long battle.

“They send them into the fire itself,” Fox tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KBRB. “What they can do is cut fire lines within the fire perimeter, down trees that need to be downed and do some work back in there that stops that fire from moving anywhere.”

Region 24 map of north-central Nebraska wildfires

Lightning strikes last Friday morning sparked the wildfires. The week-long battle has been costly to rural, volunteer fire departments.

Fox says rough estimates peg the cost to the Springview volunteer fire department at more than $60,000 and to the Ainsworth department at more than $150,000. Fox points out the small, rural departments will have to pay the bills before any reimbursement comes in.

“And, the cost is still going to go on,” according to Fox. “It’s going to be a tremendous amount, really hit us hard, hit our rural fire boards and our fire departments pretty hard until we get this paid.”

Applications are being made for federal reimbursement, not just to Springview and Ainsworth, but to all the regional fire crews which came to help.

Then, Fox notes there are the losses to those who live and work in the area.

“The impact economically for the ranchers and the farmers and everybody else who has been affected by this, it’s going to affect us a long, long time.”

Graig Kinzie, KBRB, contributed to this report.