Lightning strike ignites another field in slew of fires across county

Dry ground conditions and high winds have contributed to multiple fires over the past month.

Seward County has spent several days under a Red Flag warning, meaning conditions are right for fires to spread quickly.

Both Seward and Milford volunteer fire departments responded to a grass fire near 266th and Holdrege Road, just off the Seward I-80 interchange, last week.

Milford Fire Chief Jeremy Dinges said the fire started April 12, when a bolt of lightning struck the ground. His department responded to put it out.

Seward County also was under a tornado warning for a brief time that night, with a tornado confirmed in a field near Goehner and some parts of the county experiencing hail.

The following day, April 13, the flames rekindled and burned about 100 yards of the unplanted field.

Seward and Milford departments responded around 11:30 a.m.

A treeline and a wooden billboard were surrounded by the fire, which burned all the way up an embankment to the side of the interstate. Smoke rolling over the road affected visibility.

Another fire call later in the day near mile marker 385 led Milford and Pleasant Dale firefighters to the north ditch around 3:30 p.m., where a semi was nearby with smoking tires.

Seward Fire and Rescue volunteers responded to nine calls that day between 12:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. – six medical, two grass fires and one fire alarm at the WestRock box manufacturing facility (no fire was found).

More calls came on Saturday when the Seward city burn pile south of town was found smoldering and a two-vehicle rollover accident occurred on the interstate.

“We’ve had the burn pile catch fire three or four times,” Seward Fire Chief James Kimsey said April 14, adding another mark to that tally over the weekend.

Another fire started near the burn pile when a railcar brake sparked against the train tracks and landed in the dry brush.

Kimsey said fires near the interstate usually start when people throw lit cigarette remains out of their car windows.

“Just be cautious,” Kimsey said. “It is so dry out, it doesn’t take much for it to spread.”

Dinges said burning trash or brush is not a good idea right now.

“Listen to your local fire district when they say they’re not issuing burn permits. Don’t try to burn anyway,” he said. “Even small little contained fires for your fire pit and things like that, embers can spread and start something bigger.”

Kimsey encouraged farmers to have their tractors and water tanks ready to roll to help extinguish grass fires.

A post on the Seward Fire/Rescue Facebook page said farmers are a valuable asset to firefighters when it comes to stopping the spread of flames.

“Due to the dry conditions we are asking our farmers and ranchers to think about having their tractors, disks and nurse tanks ready. You are one of our most valuable asset(s) when it comes to creating fire lines with your equipment and hauling water to our trucks along with our tankers,” the department said. “Your knowledge of the land, what gates to get through, where the livestock is located and where to fill from an irrigation well or a stock tank are extremely important. We hope we won’t be needing to rely on you, but the dry conditions are worrying many departments across the State. Thank you for helping us when we need it.”

Other parts of the state are dealing with the same dry and windy conditions.

In south central Nebraska, a fire started near Arapahoe April 7 when 60 mph winds blew a dead tree into a power pole.

The fire spread more than 35,000 acres over the next five days and destroyed at least eight homes and dozens of other buildings, according to several media reports.

At least 40 fire agencies responded, and the Nebraska National Guard assisted by dumping water from helicopters.

As of April 15, that fire was 80% contained but still burning. Departments took turns keeping it contained over the Easter weekend.

Posted 4/20/2022