Another wildfire breaks out in Nebraska’s parched Panhandle

By: - September 15, 2022 9:58 am

The lack of interoperable radios among volunteer firefighters came into focus in 2022, the second-worst year for wildfires in state history. The fires included this one sparked in late July by lightning south of Gering. (Courtesy of Nebraska State Patrol)

LINCOLN — Officials reported progress Thursday in containing an erratic wildlife that has torched more than 3,700 acres south of Gering, in the rugged Wildcat Hills.

The fire’s incident commander said that the fire, which broke out Tuesday afternoon, was 28% contained and that crews were working to increase that.

“We are hopeful we will be able to release some of the air assets this afternoon if all goes well,” said Tim Grubbs, fire chief for the Banner County Volunteer Fire Department.

Nearly 30 volunteer fire departments have battled erratic winds and a temperature inversion trapping smoke near the ground since the fire broke out.

Officials said Thursday that the cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Four single-engine air tankers (SEATs) from Nebraska and Wyoming have been working the fire, along three UH60 Blackhawk helicopters,  according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

The fire has temporarily closed Williams Gap Wildlife Management Area in Banner County. Several hundred of the 1,800 acres had burned as of Wednesday.

Drought conditions and high winds have served to provide prime conditions for wildfires across Nebraska this year, including a large wildfire a month ago in the Wildcat Hills.

This week’s wildfire is the second to impact the Williams Gap area. In 2020, the Hubbard’s Gap Fire burned about 4,000 acres in the vicinity, including about 60% of the wildlife area, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.