• Sat. Mar 25th, 2023


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Nebraska Fires Leave 1 Dead and 3 Firefighters Hurt

One person was killed and three firefighters were injured as wildfires that began Friday, fueled by high winds and dry grass, burned throughout western and central Nebraska, the authorities said on Saturday.

Wildfires have been reported in at least 12 of the state’s counties since Friday. On Saturday, firefighters were battling them in Perkins, Hayes, Furnas, Red Willow and Frontier counties, according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

The agency did not immediately release details about the person who died. A spokeswoman said the injuries to the firefighters were not believed to be life-threatening.

A strong storm system that had been developing over the Dakotas since Friday brought “very strong winds” to Nebraska, and the same system drew dry air from the high plains of Colorado and New Mexico, Corey Mead, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said late Saturday.

“Grasses are just beginning to turn green,” he said in an interview. “However, there’s a lot of tall grass that’s still dormant from the winter, so that tall grass is very dry and serves as fuel for fire ignition, whether it’s downed power lines due to the strong winds or even lightning associated with storms.”

Mr. Mead said Nebraska had seen “above normal” activity during the current fire season.

The state’s national guard deployed at least three helicopters and several trucks to help put out the fires, and the Wildland Incident Response Team sent specialists to several of them, the emergency management agency said on Saturday.

The authorities are coordinating a statewide response, but one constant challenge this season has been Nebraska’s heavy reliance on volunteer firefighters, Alyssa Sanders, a spokeswoman for the agency, said late Saturday.

“We’ve been fighting fires pretty consistently here for the past several months,” Ms. Sanders said. “Resources are scarce.”

Farther southwest, the 21,000-acre Tunnel Fire near Flagstaff, Ariz., was 3 percent contained as of Saturday morning, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The cause of the fire, which started on April 17, is under investigation.

The Tunnel fire is one of several blazes that have erupted across the West in recent weeks, fueled by chaotic winds, a deepening, yearslong drought and a scarcity of spring rain or snow.