Wildfires in North-Central Nebraska Grow

By MARGERY A. BECK | July 27, 2012

The wildfires burning in north-central Nebraska along the scenic Niobrara River have expanded, but firefighters hoped more favorable weather Wednesday would help efforts to beat back the flames.

The main Fairfield Creek fire, just west of Springview, expanded from 92 square miles on Tuesday to more than 104 square miles overnight, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency spokesman Mike Wight said. Two other smaller fires about 20 miles east of the main fire had burned nearly nine square miles by early Wednesday morning.

Authorities flew over the fires well before dawn Wednesday and used infrared equipment to gauge the size of the fires, Wight said.

“It’s grown another 8,000 to 10,000 acres,” he said.

Authorities expected the weather to pitch in Wednesday, Wight said. No rain was forecast, but winds were to be lighter, humidity higher and temperatures lower than in previous days.

Temperatures, which had topped 100 degrees in recent days, were expected to top out in the mid-90s by late Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

The main fire had threatened to force the evacuation Tuesday of the small community of Sparks, but firefighters managed to keep the flames far enough away. The fire moved about a mile closer to the town overnight, Wight said, but remained a little more than three miles south of Sparks on Wednesday morning.

The fires have destroyed at least 10 structures, some of them homes, although no other reports of buildings being burned were reported by Wednesday morning. However, the flames are threatening over 100 structures in the region, Wight said.

More than 300 firefighters and support personnel are battling the fires. Four helicopters are also dumping water on the flames, Wight said. Three firefighters were injured in the first days of fighting the fire, but no other injuries have been reported since Sunday.

Gov. Dave Heineman visited the area Tuesday, receiving a briefing from fire officials and promising to send any state resources the fire crews need.

Rep. Adrian Smith, who represents Nebraska’s vast, rural 3rd District in which the fires are burning, also issued a statement Tuesday, saying his office is ready to respond to any requests for federal assistance to help contain the fires.

A surge of new firefighters was expected to join the fight over the next day or so, but Wight said Wednesday that authorities are asking volunteer firefighters from around the state not to leave their communities to help with the wildfire effort unless they’re asked.

“It’s dry everywhere,” Wight said. “We’re concerned with brining volunteer firefighters up here to help … and they leave their areas less protected. We really would prefer that they stay home and protect their own area.”

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