Another wildfire breaks out in Nebraska’s parched Panhandle

By: - September 15, 2022 9:58 am

Smoke rises from a wildfire sparked a month ago by lightning south of Gering, in Nebraska’s Panhandle. (Courtesy 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 Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.