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Eight homes lost in Lake McConaughy fireTell North Platte what you think
Photo by Kim Sizer
Consumed in the fire
Photo by Kim Sizer
A building, at left, goes up in flames Sunday.
Photo by Kim Sizer
Photo by Google maps & Bulletin graphics
The general area of the fire
Photo by Kim Sizer
Looking east from the Arthur Bay turnoff Sunday.

A wildfire totally destroyed eight homes Sunday afternoon on the north side of Lake McConaughy as the temperature climbed to 80 degrees and winds gusted to 40 miles an hour.  

The homes were in a residential area near the Arthur Bay turnoff, which is about 2.5 miles west of the intersection of Nebraska Highways 82 and 61, north of Kingsley Dam.

As law officers evacuated residents around noon Sunday the fire roared toward their homes, Fire Chief Ralph Moul said.

“Some of them just barely had enough time, but everyone who was asked to evacuate got out safely,” Moul said.

Moul said the fire was powerful.

“It was expanding rapidly on us,” he said. “We had homes that were 100 % involved before mutual aid could get there.”

The fire started the night before about a mile west of Arthur Bay. Officials suspect a red hot wheel bearing fell apart on a utility trailer and started burning the extremely dry grass alongside NE 92. A southeast wind pushed that fire nearly four miles west and northwest, and 15 fire departments fought it through the night.   

Around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, a hot spot flared up, fanned by a warm front that brought strong, dry winds out of the west and southwest.

With the wind in the opposite direction as the night before, the fire took off to the east, Moul said.

Although the homes burnt to the ground, aggressive firefighting saved about 80% of the properties in the residential area, Moul said.

“Some we sprayed with water and some with foam, ahead of the fire,” Moul said. “We did all we could.”

Moul said residential garages, shops, campers, storage buildings, boats, cars and pickups also burned up.

He said volunteers from 22 departments responded Sunday to the call for help. They battled the fire for more than five hours until the fire was contained around 5 p.m.

"That's what volunteers do when you call them, they come," he said.

Two engines and tankers stayed though Sunday night to watch hot spots and guard against another flare up. Evacuees returned to their homes around 8 a.m. Monday.

Moul urged people to check the wheel bearings on boat and utility trailers before taking to the road.

He said homeowners should do their best to fireproof their yards.

“Trim cedar trees at least five feet above the ground,” he said, “so the flames stay under the limbs instead of shooting 40 feet overhead. Don’t stack firewood around redwood decks. Keep lumber piles away from structures.”

Moul advised making a 100-foot radius around the house into a fire safety zone.

“Those are the reasons we lost a lot of property,” he said. “There were a lot of standing cedars and pine trees on the north sides.”

He also said people should promptly heed orders to evacuate.

“I understand it is difficult to leave,” Moul said, “but we had residents who were out there with garden hoses, and we were giving it all we had, and we weren’t knocking it down.”

“When law enforcement tells you to evacuate, go,” he said.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 3/20/2017
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