Grit and determination. Readiness to help at a moment’s notice. Willingness to work long and hard. Steadfastness in the face of difficulty. These are the qualities that define us as Nebraskans. And we saw them on full display last month as our state battled the worst fires in a decade.
On the evening of April 22nd, 16 fires broke out throughout Nebraska. They were brought on by a combination of drought, low humidity, and gusty winds. These dangerous conditions caused the wildfires to spread quickly and unpredictably. This came on the heels of a massive fire in Arapahoe just two weeks prior.
Efforts to contain these fires have been nothing short of heroic. It’s been an all-hands-on-deck effort throughout the state to extinguish them and protect life and property. We owe a number of groups our sincerest thanks.
First and foremost, Nebraska’s fire departments, most of which are all-volunteer, deserve our utmost gratitude. Over 140 fire departments activated to fight the various wildfires that broke out on April 22nd. Some departments responded to wildfires in Burt and Blaine counties. Local fire departments were also called to fires in Rising City, Elsie, and Bellevue, as well as in Cheyenne, Deuel, and Scotts Bluff counties. And nearly 60 fire departments responded to the massive Road 702 Fire. Altogether, these men and women worked day and night to contain these fires and protect our state from further loss.
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At the State level, our Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) swiftly coordinated a response to the wildfires. Just hours after the fires broke out, NEMA activated its State Emergency Operations Center. At my direction, Major General Daryl Bohac also deployed National Guard helicopters to make bucket drops on the fires and a ground crew to put out hot spots. He and NEMA Assistant Director Erv Portis deserve top accolades for their leadership.
The Nebraska National Guard gave crucial aid to local first responders battling the Road 702 Fire. This mission was one of the most complex Wildland Fire Operations the Nebraska National Guard has executed within the past 10 years. Ultimately, they completed 525 bucket drops of more than 293,000 gallons of water to extinguish the fire.
The Road 702 fire was so expansive that the federal government aided in the response. Our Nebraska Incident Management Team (IMT) worked in close partnership with federal, regional, and local leaders to manage a coordinated effort. The Nebraska IMT includes leaders from NEMA, Nebraska Forest Service, Nebraska Fire Marshal’s Office, and the Gering Fire Department. They skillfully supported the emergency response and took command of the Road 702 Fire on April 29th as its management transitioned from national to state control.
More than 40 Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) troopers also assisted the response in important ways, including through NSP’s Drone Program. Troopers trained as drone pilots were able to monitor hot spots and provide live video feeds to Incident Command, who would then dispatch fire teams to areas of concern.
State teammates with the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) assisted through road closures and traffic control. They drove pilot cars, provided dump trucks with tanks to operate as water trucks, and deployed personnel to help with firebreaks. The wildfires also required NDOT to develop detour routes quickly to aid responders and motorists in the area.
Private citizens also generously volunteered their time and resources to the fire response. Farmers turned on their pivots to help douse the flames of the wildfires and used their equipment to disc fields to create firebreaks. The Red Cross provided shelter for families that had to evacuate. Neighbors donated food and supplies to those displaced by the fire. And communities held benefits for firefighters injured in the line of duty. Nebraskans once again showed our trademark toughness and togetherness during a time of disaster.
We owe all of these Nebraskans tremendous thanks for coming together to fight the wildfires. We also mourn the two heroic Nebraskans whose lives were lost responding to the fires. Elwood Volunteer Fire Chief Darren Krull and retired Cambridge Fire Chief John Trumble both made the ultimate sacrifice while working to protect their communities. As we grieve their loss, we’re inspired by their courageous service. We pray God’s comfort for their families and friends during this time.
In the wake of the fires, there are ways we can continue to help affected communities. KRVN has a webpage listing wildfire relief efforts across the state: ruralradio.com/krvn/wildfire-relief. Additionally, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture has a resource page for producers in need of hay, fencing, or other supplies: nda.nebraska.gov/disasterresources/index.html.
There are other ways we can help prevent wildfires. The majority of the state is still in moderate-to-severe drought conditions. This increases the risk of wildfires. It’s important to practice responsible fire prevention efforts. In fact, May 13th is Fire Prevention Day. I encourage you to contact your local fire department to learn how to best help prevent wildfires in your community.
If you have questions about the fires, or any other topic, please email email@example.com or call 402-471-2244.