UPDATE(3:50 p.m.): According to KCSR Radio, the southeast side of the fire has flared back up and Region 23 coordinator Nan Gould has stated that additional evacuations are being made from the Wellnitz residence down to the Hankins residence and then over to the Sabulsky residence and T. Krotz residence.
In response to the developing wildfire situations in Dawes and Sheridan Counties of northwestern Nebraska, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and the Nebraska Military Department have activated additional resources to aid in the ongoing firefight.
Three additional Nebraska Army National Guard helicopters have been activated for firefighting operations. This includes a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter and a UH-72 Lakota Helicopter, bringing the total of Nebraska Army National Guard helicopters currently supporting the firefighting operation to five.
Two of these additional helicopters will be assigned to support the current Region 23 fire suppression support operation while the third helicopter will be assigned to help fight a large fire northwest of Hay Springs, Neb.
Additionally, 34 red-card trained Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to Chadron’s 1057th Light/Medium Truck Company are being activated today to integrate into and support the Rushville, Neb., fire that is being fought jointly with state and local first response forces.
Donations are still being accepted at the Rushville and Hay Springs Fire halls to support the firefighters. Tonight during the Gordon-Rushvile-Chase County football game, the Gordon-Rushville Student Council will set up containers at the gates for free will cash donations which will be used to help the Gordon and Rushville Fire Departments.
(11:30 a.m.): Firefighters were able to make some progress on the Wellnitz Fire last night with the help of several support crews, higher humidity and lower temperatures. At least one aircraft is providing drops, with more reported to be coming. Crews from all over the area are still on hand providing support and relief. There are still no reports as to the exact size of the fire, or it's containment. A red flag warning remains in effect through the weekend. No new evacuations have been made at this time.
(8:00 p.m.): The mandatory evacuation of the southwestern portion of the Metcalf Wildlife Area north of Hay Springs imposed Thursday will remain in effect overnight tonight. Officials will be re-evaluating the situation in the morning. Many firefighters have been sent home for the night after working nearly non-stop for over 36 hours to be replaced by relief crews from several neighboring communities. Crews hope to come back with renewed vigor tomorrow with the help of air support and get the fire under control. Governor Heineman plans to tour the area tomorrow and asses all three area fires.
(4:25 p.m.) Local law enforcement is now evacuating homes along Beaver Wall Road. The fire remains about 10 miles from the city limits of Hay Springs. At least one slurry bomber is reported to be coming to aid ground crews. No statistics have been released on the fire yet.
(3:00 p.m.) The fire north of Hay Springs on the Metcalf Wildlife Area has been officially named the "Wellnitz Fire." Governor Heineman has agreed to send a helicopter to support ground crews.
(2:15 p.m.) Crews are still trying to gain control of the fire, but are in bad need of support as the fire continues to expand. Hay Springs schools will not have after school program tonight
(12:28 p.m.) The Sheridan County Sheriff's department has issued a mandatory evacuation for anyone living in the west and south area of the Metcalf Wildlife Area, all the way to Beaver Wall Road. We have just received word that a plane is being brought in to drop water on the fire.
(12:04 p.m.) A second fire has just been reported a few miles east of the current fire line. A few rigs are being pulled to assist with the new fire.
(11:48 a.m.) The fire has just jumped Metcalf Road and an evacuation notice is being issued for the west and south side of the road.
(11:44 a.m.) Crews at the fire have just requested support from Ainsworth to be sent up, stating, "It looks like we're gonna lose this thing."
Crews from Cody/Kilgore are now assisting with the fire. Ainsworth has also offered to send four trucks to assist.
Crews are now commencing back burns to attempt to stop the spread of the fire. Butch Shadbolt is back in the air to monitor the burns and let the crews know if anything gets out of control.
Several ground crews are going to scrape the shoulders off of Metcalf road in an attempt to contain the fire on that side. Power has been lost in the area, and NRPPD is working to get it restored as soon as possible so they can get the wells up and running again.
The ground crews on the scene are now requesting air support to help combat the fire. One firefighter just radioed that "There is no way we can put this out with just trucks. If we don't get some resources here we're gonna lose this thing." The fire has reached Metcalf and Butch Shadbolt has reported from the air that it is headed for another heavily timbered area. It is not yet known if additional resources will be available, as several other area fires continue to burn out of control.
A fire started by lightning about 13 miies north of Hay Springs is now within a mile of the Metcalf Wildlife Area and continues to burn out of control. Hay Springs, Rushville and Gordon Volunteer Fire Departments are all on scene, and several tankers and tractors from area businesses have also been utilized. Butch Shadbolt has been brought in to fly over the fire and report down to the ground crews. High wind gusts Wednesday night hampered firefighters efforts to contain the fire. Crews from all sides of the fire have been radioing for backup and more fuel and water all morning, and the fire appears to be getting dangerously close to a few structures. Our reporter is currently on scene helping combat the fire, but we will post photos as soon as she returns to the office.
The Hay Springs school is collecting chapstick, beef jerky, granola bars, and other such snack items for the fire department that won’t melt or perish. Feel free to bring your items any time today or to the football game tomorrow night.
Two fires are also burning uncontrolled in the Chadron and Crawford area. Chadron State College has cancelled classes for the remainder of the week, so students have the option to return home early for Labor Day. The campus is not being evacuated at this time. U.S. Highway 385 south of Chadron has been closed, but remains open north. U.S. Highway 20 east and west of town also is open. Many residents south of Chadron were evacuated from their homes late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.
The fire danger remains very high for the area as temperatures remain high and humidity dangerously low. Please use extreme caution.