TUESDAY AFTERNOON - The Wellnitz fire in northwest Sheridan County and southwest South Dakota is 75 percent contained and some firefighters are taking their first day off in a week. The last two hottest areas were knocked down Tuesday – in the southeast section of the burn zone in Sheridan County, and near Ogalala, S. D., said Bill Kight, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Emergency Management Agency.
The fire has burned 77,000 acres. It was 74 percent contained by at 3:20 p.m. Mountain Time, Kight said.
Officials advise people to watch for three primary safety hazards.
Downed power lines that may still be energized.
Trees that have burned may be unstable and could fall.
Poor visibility and road conditions in some areas.
Those who have been released from the fire lines include all volunteer fire crews, some of whom first responded to the fire, which was set by lightning on Aug. 28.
Many others were also released Tuesday.
Also, the State Fire Marshal Wildland Fire Team, Nebraska State Patrol, Nebraska National Guard Ground Troops from 1057th, Civil Support Team and Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, as well as Nebraska Department of Roads and County Road Crews have been released.
The size of the Wellnitz fire – one of three wildfires near Chadron -- was reassessed after an aerial survey Tuesday. Officials say 44,159 acres have burned in Nebraska and 33,000 in South Dakota.
Fourteen air personnel, one Blackhawk helicopter and two type-three helicopters from the Nebraska National Guard Aviation Division remain on standby.
Weather conditions remained dangerous Tuesday, with temperatures reaching 90-95 and northwest wind gusting up to 30 miles per hour during the afternoon, Kight said.
At least 100 power poles have been damaged or destroyed in Sheridan County -- more than can be reached for a thorough assessment, according to Everette Langford of the Northwest Rural Electric Association public power company.
Crews have begun to repair badly damaged sandy roads. The Sheridan County Road Superintendent reminds non-essential traffic to avoid the roads until repairs can be made.
All state highways are open in the northern panhandle. Watch for fire fighters, smoke and wild fire. There may be intermittent road closures because of the response, Kight said.