Officials: Wildfire in Nebraska Sandhills nearly contained

This photo provided by the Nebraska National Forest & Grasslands Service shows distant flames Sunday, Oct. 3, 2022 from the Bovee Fire near the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest. By Sunday night, the grassland fire in the state's Sandhills region had grown to about 15,000 acres, or around 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), according to the Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands. (Julie Bain/Nebraska National Forest & Grasslands Service via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

HALSEY, Neb. (AP) — Firefighters have nearly contained a large wildfire in the Nebraska Sandhills that has burned roughly 30 square miles and that led to the death of a volunteer firefighter, officials said.

The Bovee Fire began Sunday and spread quickly because of dry conditions in west-central Nebraska. The Rocky Mountain Complex Incident Management Team said Thursday that their estimate of the size of the fire decreased slightly but remained around 19,000 acres (about 77 square kilometers).

The incident management team said the fire is 94% contained with only a few short sections of the fire line surrounding the blaze still unsecure. A night shift of firefighters will no longer be needed to contain the fire about 260 miles (420 kilometers) west of Omaha.

Cooler temperatures with highs near 60 degrees (16 degrees Celsius) are expected Thursday, but winds may gust up to 25 mph (40 kilometers per hour) as a cold front moves through the area. The high temperature on Friday is likely to be in the upper 40s.

Officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze, but have said it was likely “human caused.”

Assistant Chief of the Purdum Volunteer Fire Department Mike Moody died Sunday after suffering an apparent heart attack while fighting the fire. The cabins and main lodge at the Nebraska State 4-H Camp, and an observation tower in the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest were all destroyed by the fire.

The fire forced the residents of the village of Halsey to briefly evacuate their homes Sunday, and a stretch of Nebraska Highway 2 was shut down because of the fire.