Two firemen were hurt when widespread grass fires whipped across southern Lancaster County on Sunday, burning houses, shutting roads, and forcing evacuations as a thin shroud of smoke descended over Lincoln.
As two distinct fires in the southern portion of the county advanced northward during the afternoon, aided by winds from the south and dry weather, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency ordered evacuations.
Three homes were lost and two firemen were hurt, one critically, by the time nightfall had settled in and the blazes were mainly controlled, according to a press statement from the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.
The identities of the fire departments to which the personnel belonged are unknown.
At about 7 o’clock, Lancaster County declared an emergency, and the Lincoln Southwest High School gymnasium became a temporary shelter for the evacuees. Those who evacuated their houses were urged not to come back by authorities.
By 2:44 p.m., residents south and west of Southwest 12th Street and Saltillo Road in Lancaster County were being told to evacuate because of a fire that had begun near the county line with Gage.
Both a phone notice from the sheriff’s office and a request from the Hallem Fire Department for officers to begin evacuating people in the fire’s path were sent. Officials then clarified that the directive was optional.
Nearby, a fire to the southwest of Firth was rapidly moving north, prompting another evacuation order for the region bounded by South 38th and 54th streets and Olive Creek and Apple roads, which is mostly agricultural and is between Cortland and Firth.
Just east of one of the flames, Christopher Smith was among a group of individuals who had gathered at a property on the corner of Southwest 72nd and Panama Roads in southern Lancaster County.
Cattle and other assets were going to be moved to Smith’s property a few miles to the south, and the locals and their neighbors were making plans to do so.
As the farm’s owner hurriedly sprayed down the back porch with water and put up sprinklers in case the fire came near, Smith added, “Everybody’s just trying to assist out.”
By 4:45 p.m. on that day, the fire had already destroyed a large portion of the region near Olive Creek State Recreation Area in southern Lancaster County and was swiftly moving northward.
The whole state of Nebraska, including Lancaster County, was under a red flag warning until 8 o’clock that evening.
According to the National Weather Service, dry soil and low humidity contributed to the strong winds from the south, which gusted up to 55 mph.
In addition, temperatures reached record highs for late October, reaching the upper 80s.
As of 8 p.m., firefighters had controlled the fire that had begun southwest of Firth, however they were still battling hot patches north of Olive Creek Lake and near Kramer on Southwest 100th and West Panama roads. In addition, the Norris School District has announced a two-hour delay for the start of classes on Monday. Lincoln was not thought to be in danger.
The full extent of the destruction, despite the efforts of the several fire departments that responded (including Lincoln Fire and Rescue), will not be known until Monday morning. Farmers, meantime, deployed irrigation pivots to fight the wildfire.