Volunteer firefighters, battling wildfires in north-central Nebraska as well as exhaustion, describe fires that defy their best efforts to fight them.
“It’s just exploding,” Ainsworth Volunteer Firefighter Jeff Keezer tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KBRB. “It doesn’t take much and it just runs.”
A lightning strike in the Sand Hills Friday morning ignited the Fairfield Creek Fire, the largest wildfire that has consumed at least 50,000 acres over Keya Paha, Brown and Cherry Counties in the Niobrara River valley. The Wentworth and Hall Fires broke containment in southeastern Keya Paha County late Monday.
Between 300 and 400 firefighters from 35 fire departments have responded. Gov. Dave Heineman activated the National Guard, which sent three helicopters to the scene with special buckets to scoop water from nearby Cub Creek Recreation Area to dump on the fire.
Also, fire lines have been established, but they haven’t proven successful.
“It’s slowing it down. But, when that fire comes out of there and it’s raging, it jumps those fire lines,” Keezer says.
Firefighters who responded this weekend when the fire first started stayed on the front lines more than 24 hours before taking a break. Many resisted taking a break.
Keezer says firefighters have experienced “short nights, long days”.
Ainsworth Volunteer Firefighter Brandon Evans tells KBRB he’s never fought anything like it.
“Just unbelievable,” Evans says. “It’s something that you never imagine could happen, but it’s out there and you just hope you never see anything like it again.”
Evans says the wildfire’s speed and unpredictability make it especially difficult.
“I guess, you know, it was moving about 60 mph at one time when it was rolling really hard to the north,” says Evans. “Just trying to do the best we can. Watching it come out of the canyons and putting it out as it comes out.”
The terrain adds to the difficulties. Much of the area is extremely rugged, too rugged even for four-while-drive, and must be accessed by foot.
Graig Kinzie, KBRB, contributed to this report.
AUDIO: Graig Kinzie, KBRB, talks with volunteer firefighters about their battle against the Fairfield Creek fire. [2:40]