A 64-year-old Chadron woman died Wednesday during evacuations ahead of the West Ash Creek Fire in northwest Nebraska. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Chadron dispatch logged a call from a neighbor, who discovered the woman with breathing difficulties when they went to check on her during the evacuation. The sheriff’s department and an ambulance responded; she was pronounced dead at the hospital. Preliminary reports are that the cause of death was a heart attack.
The sheriff’s department evacuated about 150 Dawes County residents and closed Chadron State Park. The sheriff has since issued a mandatory evacuation for residents in the west and south of the Metcalf Wildlife Area north of Hays Springs, because of a third fire in that area.
The Region 23 Complex fires have burned nearly 69,000 acres; the complex comprises two fires, the West Ash Fire near Chadron, and the Douthit Fire near Crawford. Containment this morning is estimated at 25 percent.
The fires were estimated at only 1,300 acres on Wednesday, but grew quickly as hot winds pushed flames through the dry timber and grasslands. Smoke forced additional road closures on Sand Creek, Cottonwood Road, and Highway 20 west of Fort Robinson. Sections of Table Road near Willow Creek Church are closed because of increased fire activity in the area. Highway 385 is open, but controlled in areas with one-lane traffic and pilot car.
The Lincoln Journal-Star reported that the two fires in Dawes County were started by lightning Tuesday. One is south of Chadron and the other’s burning between the smaller towns of Harrison and Crawford. State officials also were responding to fires in Sheridan and Sioux counties, all in the Nebraska Panhandle. Gov. Dave Heineman on Thursday dispatched the state’s mobile operations center to the region.