The Chadron area fires, from left: Douthit, Ash Creek and Wellnitz.
Photo by Darrell Hartmann
Fire behind Crow Butte
Wellnitz fire, noon
SUNDAY - The West Ash fire near Chadron is 45 percent contained after a night of slighter lower temperatures and higher humidity, but the Wellnitz fire continues to spread. The overnight weather allowed firefighters to fortify fire containment lines that had been tested for several days by high winds at the West Ash fire, according to Beth Hermanson of the Rocky Mountain Emergency Management Agency.
Light rain fell overnight in several areas, but Hermanson said it was expected to provide little relief because vegetation is extremely dry.
And, firefighters worried that a slight threat of dry lightning Sunday afternoon might ignite new fires, she said.
As of mid-Sunday morning, the West Ash fire had burned 47,825 acres.
The other fire in the same area, the 30,000-acre Douthit fire, is 95 percent contained and is in a mop up and patrol status, Hermanson said.
Crews from nearly 30 volunteer fire departments as well as 34 members of the Nebraska Army National Guard's Chadron-based 1057 light/medium truck company continue to battle the Wellnitz fire, which started Wednesday 12 miles northwest of Rushville.
As of 4 p.m. Sunday, the Wellnitz fire was only 27 percent contained. It covered an estimated 96,000 acres of the scenic Pine Ridge and Beaver Wall area in Nebraska and crossed the South Dakota border onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The South Dakota portion of the fire has burned as far north as Oglala, covering some 27,000 acres, said Bill Kight of the Rocky Mountain Emergency Management Agency.
On Saturday, units from 18 volunteer fire departments from other Nebraska communities were called home to fight fires near their own communities, Kight said.
Nevertheless, 350 firefighters remained.
More about Ash Creek
Five homes and numerous outbuildings have burned down, with property damage still under assessment.
On Saturday, indirect efforts to protect to the city of Chadron were completed, including drops from the DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker of 36,000 gallons of retardant.
Also, heavy equipment completed lines around homes that were threatened.
Near Crawford, fire officials successfully completed a five-mile burnout to help reinforce containment lines.
Nearly 200 people attended a community meeting Saturday night in Chadron.
City, county and federal officials, Incident Management team members and the Nebraska State Forester praised the teamwork of agencies and organizations that are fighting the fires and keeping residents safe.
Especially noted was the hard work of the local fire departments.
“I’d take them anywhere,” Operations Section Chief Craig Beckner said later.
Hermanson said to date no firefighters have been injured.
On Sunday, firefighters continue to aggressively mop up and hold existing containment lines, paying significant attention to interior islands of unburned fuel, and also protect structures, especially near hot spots that continue to smolder, Hermanson said.
Evacuation orders have been lifted for the Community of Whitney and the Crow Butte Uranium Mine. All other evacuations in the sestern and southern portions of the West Ash Fire are still in effect.
Areas that are included in this evacuation area: West Ash Creek Road, Dryer Road, Saw Log Road, Crow Butte Road, Squaw Creek Road, Breakneck Road, Horseshoe Road, Chadron State Park continues to remain closed.
Evacuations are expected to remain in place as long as Monday night. Law enforcement and fire management are reviewing weather forecasts, wind direction, fire behavior and progress made in containing the fire in and around residents’ homes. If all of these factors become stable enough for officials to feel comfortable that they would not have to ask residents to leave their homes again, they will allow evacuees to return home.