325 square miles blackened in Neb., S.D.

Sept. 3, 2012 at 11:01 AM
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HAY SPRINGS, Neb., Sept. 3 (UPI) -- All evacuation orders associated with three Nebraska panhandle fires have been canceled as the percentage of containment increased, officials said Monday.

The Wellnitz Fire in Sheridan County was estimated to have burned 96,000 acres and was 27 percent contained, The Chadron (Neb.) Record reported. The blaze, which burned north of Rushville and Hay Springs in to South Dakota, consumed 63,000 acres in Nebraska and 33,000 acres in South Dakota, fire officials said.

Firefighters battling the two blazes that make up the Region 23 Complex fire also reported success at containment, the Record said. The Douthit Fire, northwest of Crawford, Neb., burned 29,730 acres and was 95 percent contained, while the West Ash fire, southeast of Crawford, consumed 58,450 acres and was 55 percent contained as of Sunday night.

A fire spokesman said the two fires destroyed at least five homes and 15 outbuildings.

Evacuation orders for all three fires have been lifted, and no roads are closed at this time, officials said.

At the entrance to Chadron State Park, firefighters said most of the park got through without much damage, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

"We've had two significant challenges, and we've been able to hold both of them," said Rick Teeters, a division supervisor with the Veteran Volunteer Fire Department in Goshen County, Wyo.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, after surveying surveyed the area Sunday, said he was pleased that the fires under more control and praised firefighters for their efforts.

Heineman said he would meet with local officials on the needs of ranchers who lost animals and grazing land in the fires.

About 1,000 firefighters from several states and National Guard members, supported by local volunteer firefighters, battled the three major blazes overnight as winds gusted to about 20 mph.

Winds Sunday gusted to more than 40 mph, spreading flames through tinder-dry trees and arid brown grasslands.

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