Aided by the weather, crews are getting ahead of fires in north central and northwest Nebraska.
The scattered rain Wednesday night didn't fall on the massive fire along the Niobrara River in north central Nebraska. In fact, said Mike Wight, the rains hit the South Dakota border and went east of the fire. "But the cooler weather, the higher humidity and the lower winds all combined to make for a much better day yesterday and last night, so we are all grateful for that," he said.
Wight explained how those changes help the fight. "The firefighters actually get a reprieve, and that means that they can go back to work and actually be even more effective, and be safer of course," he said. "But also the raise in humidity and the lowering temperature and the lowering of the winds actually mean that the fire itself actually doesn't burn as well."
Speaking from Ainsworth, Wight says officials there are looking forward to finishing up efforts, at least on those fires, pretty soon. "We are in a very good status right now as far as the fires are concerned. They are looking at closing out the fire sometime this weekend," he said. "That means mopping up all the hotspots, though there's always the potential for a few more days for the local fire crews who of course will stay here. They have to keep watch, in case there were some hot spots that were missed."
Wight said the area burned had not increased since Wednesday, when NEMA put it at slightly over 72,000 acres in the main Fairfield fire and two smaller fires farther east. The voluntary evacuations of Meadville and Norden have ended, and Highway 12 has been reopened. Late Thursday afternoon, NEMA also announced that the Niobrara River, which had been closed for recreational use east of Smith Falls, will be reopened on Friday.
Meanwhile, about 200 miles farther west, officials reported good progress against another set of fires. The Ash Creek fire south of Highway 20 between Crawford and Chadron was declared 80 percent contained. Steve Lenzo of the U.S. Forest Service says that fire and a smaller one have burned about 2,400 acres.