Gov. Heineman Thanks Firefighters and Responders in Western Nebraska Wildfires

Gov. Dave Heineman and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Assistant Director Al Berndt today met with firefighters, first responders and volunteers assisting with the wildfires in the northwestern part of the state. Gov. Heineman viewed the fires through an aerial tour, followed by stops in Rushville, Hay Springs and Chadron. He concluded by a driving tour of the Chadron area fire.
 
“The response from local, state and federal partners and volunteers has been tremendous,” said Gov. Heineman. “While progress has been made, especially in the Crawford and Chadron area fires, the extreme drought and wind conditions continue to present an eminent threat. Our thoughts go out to those who have been affected adversely by these fires. The state will continue to support efforts to protect Nebraskans.”
 
At the Rushville Fire Station, Gov. Heineman ate breakfast with Roger Young and John Saxton, two of the 17 volunteer firefighters on the scene from Gordon. Young and Saxton had just finished a 12-hour fire-fighting nightshift. Young expressed to the Governor that they were pleased to be able to assist the local community, noting they had just completed their 4th night in a row, and would be back to the front lines tonight. “The support from the public has been fantastic,” said Young.
 
While in Rushville, Gov. Heineman met with local firefighters, responders and volunteers at the Rushville Fire Department. During a briefing, Rushville Mayor Chris Heiser told Gov. Heineman, “We are making progress, and I am hopeful we can get the fire contained. But then, what happens for our farmers and ranchers, that’s our next priority.” Among dozens of volunteers, the Mayor noted that supplies and resources were coming from as far away as Maine.
 
Todd Richardson, the Incident Commander with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team from Colorado had a team of 49 staff assisting on the ground. Richardson credited the success of the current firefighting operations to the combined efforts of the local communities and people, “coming together and working together.”
 
Barb Retzlaff and Darian Robins of Rushville were among the many volunteers coordinating water, food and personal supply efforts. Robins noted that volunteers have been placing requests for donations through a Chadron-based website, www.chadrad.com, where they are listing needed supplies and resources from the general public.
Retzlaff and Robins shared with the Governor the overwhelming support of the surrounding communities. As an example, they talked about a few nights ago, when they wanted to serve sloppy joes to the firefighters. Local families started bringing in sloppy joes by the dozens to feed those on site. Tables were filled with food, water, bags of homemade cookies and brownies, granola bars, trail mix, as well as personal supplies of eye wash, facial tissue, bandanas and new t-shirts.
 
In Hay Springs, the volunteers at the Fire Station were preparing for a truck of firefighters to return. They gathered coolers of water and boxes of sandwiches and chips. Local volunteers Betty Turman and Marilyn Reed noted the support of local farmers and ranchers and the community as a whole, through donations and sharing of resources and tools, including farm equipment.
 
In Chadron, the Governor was briefed on the Chadron area fire. Speaking to the scope of these fires, Incident Commander for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Joe Lowe said, “We are experiencing some of the worst behaving fires in my 33 years of fire service. But our approach is always, ‘One Team. One Fight.’” Lowe went on to say there were more than 650 firefighting personnel on the ground, in addition to the approximately 100 Nebraska National Guard personnel, and dozens of additional local volunteers.
 
Gov. Heineman thanked those who were working tirelessly to fight the wildfires, and noted that significant progress has been made thanks in part to the original efforts of local firefighters, many of whom were awake for the first 48-72 hours when the fires started last Tuesday.
 
Chadron Fire Chief Pat Gould made a keen observation on the extreme drought conditions throughout the state during the briefing quipping, “Firefighters have put more water on the ground than Mother Nature this year.”
 
Gov. Heineman toured the Chadron State Park by vehicle with the Nebraska State Forester Scott Josiah, stopping to thank firefighters in the fields. One firefighting team was from Arizona, and they paused only briefly to have a quick photo taken with the Governor, before picking their chainsaws and picks back up to continue trying to help Nebraskans beat these extraordinary wildfires.
 
The Wellnitz fire in the Rushville area is currently estimated at 87,000 acres (60,000 in Nebraska and 27,000 in South Dakota) with approximately 20% containment. The Crawford and Chadron area fires (the West Ash and the Douthit fires) have burned nearly 90,000 acres and is approximately 80% contained.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

back to top