Fast-moving Nebraska wildfire scorches 15,000 acres and forces evacuations

Fast-moving Nebraska wildfire scorches 15,000 acres and forces evacuations
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A fast-moving Nebraska wildfire that started Sunday afternoon and was “likely human-caused” has scorched an estimated 15,000 acres and forced evacuations, according to the Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands.

The blaze, which officials are calling the Bovee Fire, broke out Sunday afternoon in the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest, Travis Mason-Bushman, the forest’s public information officer, told NBC News.

More than 100 firefighters continued battling the blaze Monday morning, according to Mason-Bushman, who said they hoped to stop it from spreading on the west side after reigning it in on its east and north sides overnight.

Video of the fire, captured by NBC affiliate in Nebraska KSNB, shows flames and clouds of smoke billowing from the forest.

By 7:30 p.m. Sunday, the fire had spread to an estimated 15,000 acres and pushed 15 miles north, according to Mason-Bushman. Firefighters were going to battle the blaze throughout the night and locals were implored to “please heed all evacuation orders or warnings from local authorities,” Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands said Sunday.

The surrounding campgrounds and the nearby Village of Halsey were evacuated earlier Sunday, the agency said on Facebook.

The evacuation for Halsey has since been lifted, Mason-Bushman said Monday, and Nebraska Highway 2 has also been reopened after being closed for a few hours on Sunday due to the blaze.

The National Forest and its campgrounds remain closed and evacuated, and will “for some time to come,” Mason-Bushman said.

“We do have firefighters continuing the aggressive attack,” Mason-Bushman said, adding that Monday’s weather — with temperatures forecast for the high 70s and light winds expected — should be favorable for firefighting.

No injuries or deaths have been reported, Mason-Bushman said.

The fire caused “major devastation” at the Nebraska State 4-H Camp, according to a Facebook post from the youth camp, which said that the fire burned a lodge and cabins and that everyone who had been on site had been safely evacuated.

Firefighters were able to save the forest’s more than century-old Charles E. Bessey Tree Nursery, which “grows trees to reforest after fires like this one,” Mason-Bushman told NBC News.

The nursery, located about a mile west of the village of Halsey, is home to 1.5 million seedlings and “has a long-standing reputation for producing top-quality planting stock due to its deep sandy soils, abundant water and relatively long growing season,” according to the federal forest service website.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Mason-Bushman said, adding that it was caused by “some human influence” given that there was no lightning reported in the area, which is normally the source of natural fires.

“We treat these like a crime scene or like an aircraft accident — you’re going to have trained investigators looking at the site where the fire started, gathering all the evidence before we state definitively exactly what happened,” he said.

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