Fires in Brown and Keya Paha Counties in northern Nebraska
North central Nebraska is fighting three big fires in Brown and Keya Paha counties, along or near the Niobrara River. As I understand it, all of these fires were started by lightning from thunderstorms. Vegetation is very dry due to drought, and high winds have been spreading the fires. Today, the temperatures climbed as high as 108° in the area.
The above map from the Nebraska Emergency Management Area shows the locations of the three fires. The largest of these, on the west, is the Fairfield Canyon Fire that has burned about 50,000 acres. The two smaller fires on the east are the Wentworth Fire and the Hall Fire. These fires are 50 to 60 miles north/northwest of where I grew up in northern Nebraska.
The news section of the Radio KBRB website reports that various agencies and organizations are providing support and assistance. The Central Plains Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Southern Baptist Emergency Relief Team, the National Guard, the Rocky Mountain Incident Management team, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, firefighting crews from over 50 Nebraska and South Dakota communities, and other civic and religious organizations are all working in the area. One of the roles of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency is to coordinate these efforts to the best advantage.
The National Guard has sent water tankers and also some helicopters that can carry big buckets of water. The helicopter crews can dump the water onto the fire, or they can lower the buckets to the ground where the water can be used by firefighters. These aerial photos from the Omaha World show how the helicopters lower the buckets into the river to fill them with water.
I am not sure this link will work for everyone, but I am going to include it anyway. This is Lorie Olson's Facebook album of about 250 fire photos from the Fairfield Canyon fire. If you click on one of the little photos, it will enlarge, and then you can click on that photo to go to the next one.
My heart is touched by the Facebook messages of my Nebraska friends who live in the area. They describe how they are playing a part in a huge community effort to fight these fires. They are baking cookies and cinnamon rolls, donating bottled water and ice, lending their cots and air mattresses, and working in emergency shelters and kitchens.
This evening, I received an email from Carolyn Hall whose family owns the Hall Ranch where one of the fires is raging (the fire on the east edge of the map.). Here is her assessment of the situation: "They have backfired along the west, north and east sides of the canyon so if the wind stays in the south today it may burn itself out. The big question is what happens tomorrow when the wind goes to the northwest??????? More troubling is the Wentworth fire which is out of the canyon and heading northeast. That will really be a problem when the wind goes to the NW."
These fires are devastating people's lives in so many ways. It's not just grass that's burning -- it's people's livelihoods and futures. Please pray for rain for northern Nebraska and all of the drought-parched Midwest -- rain without lightning.
UPDATE: The fires were finally declared contained on July 28. Destroyed by fire: 75,000 acres, 14 homes, 42 other structures, hundreds of miles of fences, and an unestimated number of livestock and wildlife.