North-central Nebraska wildfires nearly contained

2012-07-29T20:05:00Z 2012-08-17T22:41:25Z North-central Nebraska wildfires nearly containedThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 29, 2012 8:05 pm  • 

SPRINGVIEW — The massive wildfires that burned nearly 119 square miles near the scenic Niobrara River in north-central Nebraska this month were nearly under control Sunday.

The largest of the three fires, the Fairfield Creek Fire, was considered 100 percent contained Saturday. The other two smaller fires, the Wentworth and Hall fires, were about 90 percent contained by Sunday morning.

Officials predicted all three of the fires would be considered 100 percent contained by Monday.

"They're real pleased with the way things look right now," Linda Hecker, a spokeswoman with the emergency response team, said Sunday afternoon.

The fires that were sparked by lightning July 20 destroyed at least 14 homes and 17 outbuildings, but most of the land that burned was rugged forested land near the Niobrara River.

Hecker said the cost of fighting the fires was nearing $3 million as of Saturday night, with the total certain to grow Sunday and Monday with firefighters and support personnel continuing to battle the blazes.

Firefighters were patrolling the Fairfield Creek fire Sunday looking for flare-ups. They also were strengthening the containment lines around the smaller Wentworth and Hall fires.

The fires and the efforts to contain them interfered with one of the region's important businesses: tourism. Tens of thousands of people visit the Niobrara River each summer to float down the river in canoes or tubes.

Fire officials shut down part of the Niobrara River for several days last week because helicopters were dipping large buckets into the river. Outfitters hope tourists will return in large numbers with the fires contained.

Three firefighters sustained minor injuries early on, but no injuries were reported after the initial days of battling the fires.

Federal fire officials who have been managing the effort for the past week plan to return control to local officials Monday.

Hecker said it's important that everyone remembers the threat of fire will remain high throughout the region for at least several more weeks because of the drought.

"Fire season is still far from over," she said.

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