OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Authorities lifted evacuation orders for some northwest Nebraska residents whose homes had been threatened by wildfires, but crews on Monday were still battling three blazes that had blackened nearly 260 square miles in Nebraska and neighboring South Dakota.
The Rocky Mountain Area Incident Management Team C said Sunday that smoke and flames from the so-called Douthit and West Ash fires still might be seen near the city of Chadron.
Residents of Whitney, southwest of Chadron, were allowed to return home earlier Sunday.
The Douthit fire was nearly contained and had charred about 47 square miles by Sunday night. The West Ash fire had blackened more than 91 square miles and was half contained.
Evacuation orders have been lifted as well for the so-called Wellnitz fire north of Rushville. The blaze crossed into South Dakota on Friday and broke through containment lines on Saturday.
Following a new aerial survey on Sunday, officials lowered the damage figure to about 120 square miles, down from the 150 square miles in earlier estimates.
The Wellnitz fire was about 27 percent contained, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Jodie Fawl said Monday.
At least three minor injuries were reported, and the fires have damaged at least 10 homes and more than 50 structures in the two states.
"We've got a very challenging situation out here because of the winds and the very dry conditions," Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said Sunday after touring the damage and meeting with officials. He said it would likely take several more days to fully contain the blazes.
Firefighters have already battled several wildfires in Nebraska this summer, and more than 35 volunteer firefighting departments were working with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and federal incident command teams to contain the three current blazes, which were sparked by lightning earlier in the week.
The tinder-dry northwestern corner of Nebraska is a sparsely populated area of rolling prairie hills, badlands and stands of Ponderosa pines.
Conditions are likely to remain ripe for fires for at least several more weeks because the hot, dry weather has dried out the vegetation. Monday's National Weather Service forecast calls for a high near 92 in Chadron, with winds of 5 to 15 mph. No rain was predicted until Thursday night.
"Firefighters have put more water on the ground than Mother Nature this year," Chadron Fire Chief Pat Gould said during the governor's tour.
Associated Press writer Nelson Lampe contributed to this report.
- Natural Phenomena
- Nature & Environment