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One fatality reported as latest wildfires threaten Cambridge, nearby area

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Only hours after many residents of Cambridge returned to their homes Saturday, they were told to leave once again as fire crews from across the region, with assistance from the Nebraska National Guard, worked to contain a wildfire whipped by howling winds.

Residents of Cambridge, Bartley, Indianola and Wilsonville, communities in Furnas and Red Willow counties, were first told to evacuate Friday evening after the fire spread north and eventually west over drought-stricken areas.

fire 2.jpg

First responders work to put out fires north of Cambridge on Saturday.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, which is coordinating the state's response, reported one person had died and at least three firefighters had suffered injuries battling fires.

Although no details are available, it's believed the person died during evacuation efforts in Cambridge, a community of about 1,000 people in southwest Nebraska.

Evacuation orders were lifted for all towns at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday. However, by 1:15 p.m., officials said the fire flared up again south of Cambridge and residents were told to be on standby for the evacuation order to be reinstated. They were told to leave a short time later.

Some roads are closed because of the fire, and where they are open, drivers are urged to use caution because of decreased visibility from smoke and blowing dust.

Anyone who is not a first responder is asked to stay away from the area.

The fire has blazed across an estimated 47,000 acres as of Saturday morning, starting near the Kansas state line and extending north to near the Harry Strunk Lake dam, the Valley Voice newspaper reported.

Fire departments from across the region are fighting the fire with assistance from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, which called in Nebraska National Guard units,  including a hand crew, two Blackhawk helicopters, one Lakota helicopter and several ground support trucks.

Wildfires, 04.23.22

Crew members assemble the "bambi" water bucket on a Nebraska Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter after arriving in McCook on Saturday.

Residents of surrounding communities — including people from Arapahoe, whose homes were threatened in a wildfire earlier this month — stepped in to provide food and shelter for those evacuating their homes.

Arapahoe Public Schools served as one location where evacuees were provided with food, water and cots to stay the night. Others headed west toward McCook, where facilities were set up in churches and gyms.

The evacuation orders were not limited to the fire in southwest Nebraska. Macy, in northeast Nebraska, was evacuated because of a fire burning in that area.

Many of those who evacuated were able to take only valuables as they fled their homes.

Steve Ervin, a longtime Cambridge resident, grabbed photos, prescriptions and a few antiques and other sentimental items.

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Ervin evacuated his home west of Cambridge at about 6:15 p.m. Friday and headed to stay with his son and daughter-in-law.

He feared it would be the last time he would see his house, which sits across from a field enrolled in a federal land conservation program.

He returned home Saturday morning, however, to find his house still standing.

Wildfire, 04.23.22

The Nebraska State Patrol provided this photo of smoke and flames from a wildfire burning near Cambridge on Saturday.

​​”Emotions were high," Ervin told the Journal Star in a Facebook message. "You just kept wondering, Do we have a home? If not, how do you start over at 70 years old?"

The fire that burned Friday night was stopped just 20 feet from Ervin's house, but consumed a shed, vehicle and a shelter belt.

“Losses, yes, we had losses of mainly woodworking tools," he said. "But we have a house to go back to. God is good.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or


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