(Lincoln, Neb.) Gov. Dave Heineman today met with federal, state and local responders in the Niobrara River Valley. The Governor thanked volunteers and responders working against the fires in Brown, Keya Paha and Cherry Counties. Additionally, Gov. Heineman and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency officials surveyed the fires, flying west on the Niobrara River from Bassett to Ainsworth.
“The volunteers and workers I spoke with today are incredible people,” said Gov. Heineman. “On behalf of all Nebraskans, I want to thank everyone involved in fighting these fires. I appreciate the federal, state and local responders who are working to contain this fire. We are making progress, but continued support is needed. The community volunteer support for the firefighters has been extraordinary. Caring individuals from all across America have been generously contributing money, food and aid. We all also feel deeply for those displaced and affected by this fire – Nebraskans are here to support you.”
The Governor assured fire responders that needed resources are activated and being deployed to the north central Nebraska areas of Ainsworth and Norden, as well as fires in the Crawford area in western Nebraska.
The State Emergency Operations Plan continues to operate in response to the fire emergency. Resources from the Nebraska State Patrol, Nebraska Department of Roads, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and the State Fire Marshal’s Office are being utilized.
There are now 3 fires in the vicinity of Ainsworth in north central Nebraska. The Fairfield Creek fire is at approximately 58,500 acres and straddles the river. The Wentworth fire is 20 miles east of the Fairfield Creek fire and 3 miles north of the river, estimated at 2,600 acres. A new fire started yesterday approximately 6 miles east of the current Wentworth fire and 3 miles north of the river. This fire, the Hall Fire, is estimated to be more than 1,400 acres in size. Containment is currently estimated at 15% among all three fires.
Currently there are approximately 240 federal, state and local personnel working the fires, in addition to hundreds of volunteers. Ten structures and some associated outbuildings have been destroyed and approximately 80 are threatened.
Three Nebraska National Guard Blackhawk helicopters and 2 Air Tactical aircraft will continue to assist ground crews in achieving containment goals. There are 35 Guard personnel providing support to local firefighters. The helicopters are equipped with “Bambi buckets” which are scooping water from local sources and dropping the water where needed. An additional 35 ground, red-card certified Nebraska National Guardsmen are being made available to support local firefighters, if needed.
At the Ainsworth Fire Hall, Gov. Heineman met with frontline firefighters and local volunteers who are providing food and water to responders. Local firefighter, Ann Fiala, told the Governor they have received much needed donations from throughout the state and as far away as Maine. Fiala said they have received checks for as much as $500 and $1000, which goes to aid resources for the firefighters who face extreme temperatures around 120 degrees in the already hot 105 degree local heat. Those interested in donating may: 1) Make checks payable to “North Central Development Center.” 2) Write "Fire Relief" on the check. 3) Mail to: North Central Development Center, 335 North Main, Ainsworth, NE 69210.
The Governor also met with volunteers and responders in Norden and Springview. A volunteer in Springview, Linda Sheehan, asked that those interested in helping, volunteering, donating or following the community efforts could find information on the Springfield Nebraska Community Facebook page.
At the incident command center in Ainsworth, Gov. Heineman was briefed on current efforts. The Incident Commander, Todd Pechota from South Dakota, said that there are 32 volunteer fire departments on the scene from mountain and plain states. Fuel, weather and topography are used for fire behavior modeling. Low humidity, high temperatures, extreme drought, and dry lightning in the weather forecast continue to be major concerns. The model determines the potential for possible fire movement and management.
At the beginning of this month, Gov. Heineman authorized an emergency declaration for statewide drought and fires that allows state personnel and resources to assist with emergency situations and prevention, and allows maximum flexibility to the state to deploy Nebraska National Guard and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency assets and resources as needed.
The Governor and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency continue to monitor the situation throughout the state, as the drought continues.