Civilian badly burned in fire department’s prescribed fire in Whiteclay, Neb.

Whiteclay Nebraska

Whiteclay, Nebraska as seen in Google Maps Streetview

A man that was apparently not directly involved with a prescribed fire was entrapped and badly burned on March 7 in Whiteclay, (map) a very small town in the northwestern part of Nebraska. The articles in the Omaha World-Herald and Indian Country are not super clear on how Bryan Blue Bird Jr., 51, of Pine Ridge, SD came to be in the project area, but said the incident occurred in a vacant lot, “where drinkers often end up after buying beer in the unincorporated village”. The volunteer fire department from Rushville, Nebraska, about 15 miles south of Whiteclay, was conducting the prescribed fire, according to both news articles.

I have never heard of an incident like this, in which a civilian is seriously burned during a small prescribed fire conducted by an organized fire agency.

Here is an excerpt from the article in the Omaha World-Herald.

A Lakota Sioux man was seriously injured in a recent controlled burn of vacant lots in Whiteclay, Neb., and family members and friends question whether firefighters were negligent in not checking the area before igniting the blaze.

Bryan Blue Bird Jr., 51, of Pine Ridge, S.D., was hospitalized with burns over 25 percent of his body after the March 7 incident.

Volunteer firefighters from Rushville had been burning off thick grass from vacant lots to reduce fire risks to local businesses when Blue Bird was spotted amid the flames, according to Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins.

He said firefighters doused the unemployed military veteran with water and then pulled him from the fire area.

Blue Bird is in the intensive care unit of a Greeley, Colo., hospital, where he is scheduled for a skin graft on his hands Thursday. He also has burns on his face and back, family members said.

His longtime girlfriend, Patricia White Bear Claw, said firefighters should have more thoroughly checked the vacant lots, where drinkers often end up after buying beer in the unincorporated village.

“They know they sit down there and drink. They know that. They should have checked,” White Bear Claw said.

UPDATE at 12:15 p.m. MT, March 26, 2012:

After a person calling themselves “Felix” made an accusation in a comment on this article that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was responsible for the prescribed fire in White Clay, I heard today from Dave Martin, an Assistant Regional Fire Management Officer for the BIA. He said they looked into this, and confirmed that the BIA was not involved in any way with the incident. The volunteer fire department from Rushville, Nebraska conducted the prescribed fire, not the BIA. Mr. Martin also said the account of the incident in the Omaha World-Herald is essentially correct.

Thanks go out to Mark

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About Bill Gabbert

Wildland fire has been a major part of Bill Gabbert’s life for several decades. After growing up in the south, he migrated to southern California where he lived for 20 years, working as a wildland firefighter. Later he took his affinity for firefighting to Indiana and eventually the Black Hills of South Dakota where he was the Fire Management Officer for a group of seven national parks. Today he is the creator and owner of WildfireToday.com and Sagacity Wildfire Services and serves as an expert witness in wildland fire. If you are interested in wildland fire, welcome… grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. Google+

12 thoughts on “Civilian badly burned in fire department’s prescribed fire in Whiteclay, Neb.

  1. “It’s not my Fault”; “somebody else is responsible”. Why am I reminded of the sewer scene from the Blues Brothers with John Belushi?

  2. ^^^^Yep
    Short grass prairie, Western mixed grass species, prickly pear, yucca, prairie coneflower, Badlands threadleaf sedge, some sagebrush on occurences, cotonwood, Pondo pine in some escarpments, willows, Russian olive, and of course Nebraska’s “second State tree” the Eastern red cedar….Outside of Whiteclay is the beginnings of SSE Badlands of SD and part of the Pine Ridge area.

    Some beautiful and rugged country and despite the issues with Whiteclay and the Native Americans….good people of both Caucasian and Native American “tribes.”

  3. The article does not state whether proper notification of the planned Rx Burn was done. Did they have posted signs, flyers, media and contact with the local tribe and community? If not, they may be are at fault.

    • This was a Volunter Fire department, not a large Federal or State Natural Resources Agency that has a full time staff to accomplish all of the PIO-type efforts you’ve described.

      • It doesn’t matter who is conducting the burn. This burn should have had a Burn Plan including a Go/No Go Checklist, and that checklist should have included proper notification to anyone and everyone who could be impacted by this burn. This isn’t something new, and any responsible Burn Boss would cover this notification base because he/she just wouldn’t want something like this to come back and bite them later.

        IF proper and reasonable public notifications weren’t provided well enough in advance, then this will be a tough way to learn that lesson. But the toughest lesson is for the man who was burned. Was this public or private land? Was he trespassing? Regardless, I hope he will make a good recovery.

        What a shame. Things like this don’t just hurt the individuals involved. They hurt they entire prescribed burning community.

  4. i was their when this control burn was going on and i did see at lease two bia fire units spraying water and using fuel to burn this field out,so both departments need to be held responsible for what happen! is the bia trying to cover up a member getting burned up. professional people need to do this kind of work,not a bunch of kids that just graduate high school. pine ridge fire department needs to be looked at,from the fmo down to the firemen to much rookies, the f m o is a rookie too

    • Felix: I talked today with Dave Martin, an Assistant Regional Fire Management Officer for the BIA. He said they looked into this, and the BIA was not involved in any way with the incident. The volunteer fire department from Rushville, Nebraska conducted the prescribed fire, not the BIA. Mr. Martin also said the account of the incident in the Omaha World-Herald is essentially correct.

  5. ^^^
    Right

    If there are issues then the FMO ought to be held responsible. Lookslike some REAL training issues have to be addressed!!

  6. What a bunch of idiots!! Only professionals should attempt. Wind can change there in a heartbeat and make a bad situation worse.

  7. Its a shame! Obviously Rushville should have checked better before burning. You that critique what they did don’t know your a** from a hole in the ground about what goes on in this area. Rushville vol just spent the last week fighting a big fire and they volunteered just like they always do. They volunteered to burn this area at the request of the owner. The burn victim was trespassing! Ya they should have checked and maybe they did and missed the man passed out in the grass. (No matter what he claims) These volunteers do a great job and now they do not do any controlled burns. Don’t cast blame if you don’t know the whole story. And you that think professionals should do everything, I’ll bet the so called pro’s make more mistakes than volunteers ever do. Get off your high horse!!!! I’ve been a vol for 30 yrs now. I’d pick a volunteer anytime to get things done with the limited resources they must work with.

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