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