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Paxton fire destroys three homesTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
The fire's intial path from the ignition point, upper left.
Courtesy Photo­Image
First five miles of the fire's path.

Three homes burned all the way to the foundation Thursday night, along with several outbuildings, as a massive wildfire raced across 10,000 acres south of Paxton.

The fire began shortly after 3 p.m. Mountain Time about a mile north of I-80, some seven miles west of the Paxton exit, but soon jumped I-80 and headed southeast, pushed by northwest winds that gusted up to 70 miles an hour.

Nearly 30 fire departments from a wide area responded. By 9:30 p.m., the leading edge of the fast-moving fire was contained, but firefighters battled several miles of fires on the flanks of the burn.

By midnight, the fire was mostly contained and firefighters from the most distant departments were headed home. Crews from Paxton, Tryon, Stapleton and North Platte remained through the night, according to Pete Peterson, Keith County Emergency Manager.

At least 8 outbuildings were destroyed, plus several farm implements, power poles and a county road culvert. Of the three homes that burned to the ground, one had not been occupied, Peterson said. Standing crops and hay piles were burned in the path.

With help from farmers with tractors and disks, the head fire was finally stopped in Perkins County.

"It was hard to even find the head fire, there was so much smoke," Firefighter Chris Wells of Paxton said. "The wind pushed it hard."

"You'd have thought I-80 would be a good fire break," Wells said. "There is work underway on the north lane, so there was an extra 30-40 feet of (inflammable) area on the shoulder. But it didn't stop it."

After touring the burned area, Peterson was dismayed.

"Three houses burned to the foundation," he said. "It is something I've never seen before -- and something I never want to see again."

The burned area is roughly 13 miles long and as wide as a mile-and-a-half. The leading edge reached a mile-and-a-half into Perkins County. Dozens of homes in the path were hurriedly evacuated ahead of the fire, Peterson said.

Three firefighters had eye problems and were taken to a doctor, but no residents were injured.

The fire jumped across both I-80 and the Paxton-Elsie Road.

Soon after the fire began, at least 30 homeowners were ordered to evacuate between East P Road and the Paxton-Elsie Road, and between I-80 and the Perkins County line on the north and south.

Fire departments responded from Arthur, Benkelman, Brule, Culbertson, Elsie, Grant, Hayes Center, Hershey, Hyannis, Imperial, Indianola, Keystone-Lemoyne, Lamar, Madrid, Mullen, North Platte, Ogallala, Paxton, Red Willow County, Stapleton, Sutherland, Trenton, Tryon, Venango, Wallace, Wauneta and Wellfleet, Peterson said.

Nate Christopher of KX-104/KODY contributed to our initial reports.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 10/18/2012
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