By Ang Gilchrist
The recent combination of limited moisture, extremely high temperatures and low relative humidity has left the entire region a tinderbox. With the rough terrain and exhausted volunteer fire crews, the whole area is tapped out with the recent fires.
The Merriman River fire, located ten miles south of Merriman, is 100% contained and 95% controlled. The fire was believed to have been started by a spark from a passing tractor last Friday, and burned over 5,000 acres of timber and grassland. Firefighters were able to save multiple structures, including the home of Tom Cobb. According to Cobb, he gives special credit to Matt Ford of the Cherry County Highway Department. Ford was able to manuever his caterpillar through dense smoke and cut a fire line, diverting the fire to within 50 feet of Cobb’s garage.
“He (Ford) saved my property and my house by diverting the fire,” said Cobb. While other firefighters were blocked from entering the burning area by the Grant County Sheriff, they continued to do an excellent job of protecting other homes and structures in the fires path.
Over 100 firefighters helped battle the fire from the following departments: Gordon, Martin, Cody, Merriman, Hay Springs, Rushville, Vetal, Batesland, Lacreek Wildlife Refuge, Sandhills Rescue(Hyannis), Whitman and Tuthill. Butch Shadbolt and Ed Minor also helped to monitor the fire by doing fly-overs in their personal aircrafts.
In addition to thanking the firefighters, Rushville Assistant Fire Chief Jerry Kearns had praise for the people behind the scenes that were responsible for getting drinking water, sandwiches, and meals to the firefighters. “Stuart Hopper (Merriman Fire Chief) and I were very thankful and impressed with the unity and help from the community,” said Kearns.
The Mission Ranch fire located northwest of Clinton was reported Sunday afternoon. The fire burned between 150 and 200 acres of timber and grass, including several slash piles that hadn’t been burned during the previous winter months. Fire departments from Rushville, Rushville Rural, Gordon and Gordon Rural spent several hours stabilizing the area.
A small fire was reported on the Marcy land south of Hay Springs on Sunday, but it was quickly extinguished with the help of neighbors. The fire was reportedly a result of dry lightning the previous night.
“These fires can all come back at any given time,” said Kearns, “the fires will not reach 100% controlled until it snows.” Until a solid amount of moisture is received, the fire areas can contain smoldering embers that can re-ignite at any time, given the dry conditions. Butch Shadbolt and Kearns did a fly-over of Region 23 on Monday and reported that the majority of the fires appeared contained, with a few hot spots that were reported to the proper command posts fighting the fires.
Active fires include three burning southeast of Crawford, the Job Corps fire south of Chadron, and a 20,000 plus acre fire on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Numerous fires also continue to burn in the Black Hills.
Community members are reminded to take extra precautions during these volatile weather conditions. Stay on well traveled roads and DO NOT throw out lit cigarettes. The smallest of sparks can lead to a devastating fire and endanger people, structures, animals and land.
By Ang Gilchrist