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Fire burns three miles of grassland Tell North Platte what you think
Photo by Joe Chitwood
Photo by Joe Chitwood
Wagon Trail Road
Photo by Joe Chitwood
Discing a fire line along Wagon Trail Road
Photo by Joe Chitwood
Flames threatened this house on Wagon Trail Road.
Photo by Joe Chitwood
Some of the fire trucks and water wagons at the scene.
Photo by Joe Chitwood
Blackened pasture. The shooting range is at left. Tap on image to enlarge.

Farmers and firefighters fought a grass fire late Thursday afternoon southwest of North Platte that spread for three miles, fanned by strong westerly winds.

The fire apparently started at a shooting range near Range Road and State Farm Road, some seven miles southwest of North Platte.

The fire ran across open pasture to Wagon Trail Road, where, in advance, farmers disced up a firebreak to slow or stop the blaze, with help of fire fighters.

The fire cut a path about a quarter-mile wide. Part of it jumped Wagon Trail and burned east of Wagon Trail for a quarter mile or so before it was extinguished.

North Platte Fire Captain Ed Etherton said the first call came at 4.44 p.m.

By then, the temperature had reached the low to mid-80s. The humidity dropped to around 10%, and the wind blew at 25-35 miles an hour through the afternoon, the National Weather Service in North Platte said.

Etherton said North Platte units left the station within two minutes after the call came in and battled the blaze for about two hours before it was contained. 

Hershey, Wallace, Sutherland and later Maxwell, Maywood and Wellfleet were called.

Hershey Fire Chief Toby Tobiasson took charge of the south half of the fire and Etherton handled the north. Etherton’s crew had the job of trying to control traffic of people who came to look or to help, as well as fighting the fire.

Farmers were out working the fields, and 7-8 tractors and discs soon arrived. Etherton said farmers were a tremendous help, except it can be difficult to communicate with them.

Tobiasson said the fire moved fast. Ranchers arrived on the south side to help and were told to check in with the command vehicles.

They were a big help, he said.

“After our crews have gone through and knocked the fire down, we love to have them come patrol behind,” Tobiasson said. “They get the little flare ups and keep us from having to double back.”

An initial problem was vehicles that arrived parked along the roads, hindering firefighters from getting equipment through, Etherton said.

The fire threatened just one home, a house at 5602 Wagon Trail Road, but only a few trees were lost, Etherton said, although flames burned within less than 10 feet of the foundation.

The firefighters thought they stopped the fire at Wagon Trail Road, but one portion of flames jumped the road and went on east.

Etherton said it was a dangerous situation, complicated by the amount of smoke that limited visiblity. Fearing that part of the fire would get away, he called for more help, However, the tractors and discs were able to coordinate and surround it pretty quickly. It went about a quarter mile east of Wagon Trail.

The south side presented the biggest challenge.

Firefighters left from the gun range and flanked the south side, and some pivots in the area were turned on, Tobiasson said, but flareups were common. The fire came back at least twice more to Wagon Trail Road.

The width was about a quarter mile wide at the start, then broadened to about a half-mile, and narrowed to about a quarter-mile by the time it reached Wagon Trail.

“We had a ton of help,” Etherton said. “I can’t thank everybody enough for all they did.”

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 3/16/2017
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