Firefighters battling a wildfire that has burned at least 50,000 acres in north-central Nebraska keep hopeful, even as the odds stack against them.
“We hope that we can get it stopped. We’re praying that we can get it stopped,” Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KBRB. “That’s all I can say. We’re just hoping for the best.”
Approximately 300 firefighters from 35 western Nebraska fire departments have responded to the fire near the South Dakota border. A lightning strike Friday morning is getting the blame for sparking four fires in Dawes County and two others in Grant County.
Fiala says some firefighters arrived shortly after the brush fire began and remained on the front lines Saturday afternoon. He had to order several to leave the front lines.
“We finally had to order them to get off the fire line and get some rest,” Fiala says.
Two firefighters suffered injuries, according to Fiala. Both received treatment at a hospital in Valentine. One of the firefighters is at home, recovering. The other injured firefighter has been assigned to the office, working communications. Fiala says he will not be allowed back on a fire truck “for quite some time”.
Terrain presents a huge obstacle in the battle. Much of the area is accessible only on foot. Not even four-wheel-drive vehicles travel portions of it.
Fire lines have been established nearly Coleman Creek Canyon west of Norden on the fire’s western front, west of Meadville on the eastern front, Highway 12 on its northern boundary and south of the Niobrara River on its southern boundary.
An aerial survey, using infrared technology, estimated the Fairfield Creek Fire has consumed 50,000 acres. Fiala believes that is low. His estimate pushes the burned acres closer to 100,000. Fiala says the hot, dry temperatures have made this fire a monster.
“When you get up there and you get these trees burning and you get a 60-foot flame, the heat off that fire, you can’t even come close to even getting close to that,” Fiala says. “We’re trying to flank it.”
Gov. Dave Heineman has activated the National Guard to help. Three Guard helicopters have been using huge buckets to scoop water from the Cub Creek Recreation Area and pour it on the fire.
Graig Kinzie, KBRB, contributed to this report.
AUDIO: KBRB’s Graig Kinzie interviews Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala. [9 min.]