Details emerge about fatal accident at Nebraska controlled burn

UPDATE: January 8, 2012

It was pointed out to us that in addition to Theresa Schnoor who died soon after the April 28, 2011 controlled burn, the two people that were injured also passed away later. Further research found that Robert Seybold, 40, died May 18, 2011, and 37-year-old Anthony Meguire died at a burn center in Lincoln, Nebraska September 18, 2011. More details are HERE.


On May 4, 2011, Wildfire Today covered the tragic story of the fatality and two injuries that occurred on a controlled burn in southwest Nebraska on April 28, 2011. Yesterday the Omaha World-Herald published an in-depth article about the incident and the difficulty of small volunteer fire departments being present at every controlled burn conducted by a private land owner. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Two weeks ago, shifting winds whipped a grassland fire over a firebreak in southwest Nebraska, killing a 46-year-old woman and critically burning two men.

Theresa Schnoor
Theresa Schnoor, Omaha World-Herald

The tragedy involved a growing fraternity of Iowa and Nebraska landowners and others using fire to rid grazing land of unwanted trees and to reinvigorate grassland and wildlife habitat.

The incident was part of a spring run of fires in Nebraska’s dry southwest that exposed holes in the thin line of volunteers who fight wildfires — and then chase after the rare prescribed burn that escapes its handlers.

Lack of manpower and money were the primary reasons no trained firefighters were on hand April 28 when flames engulfed 46-year-old Theresa Schnoor of Trenton, Neb. The State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the death.

Some rural fire departments send crews to stand by at prescribed burns — commonly referred to as controlled burns — as part of their training, but neither Nebraska nor Iowa requires their presence.

State Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton held hearings on the issue of prescribed burns last year and found no need to have volunteer firefighters at every event, so long as the procedures set in state law are followed.

“It was very clear to us that volunteer firefighters are already overextended, and imposing more training or regulation on them could be a disincentive to volunteering,” said Joselyn Luedtke, an aide to Dubas. “The problem didn’t seem to be that there was a need for more firefighters on the ground, but a need for landowners to develop and follow prescribed burn plans.”

There were no indications that the Trenton-area burn would turn tragic, said former State Sen. Tom Baker, who watched the operation start and later was the first emergency medical technician on the scene.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Details emerge about fatal accident at Nebraska controlled burn”

  1. I know of a few instances in NC where VFDs are involved in prescribed burning. It requires a learning curve for everyone involved, but should have positive outcomes in the long run.

    However, I’d say that is the exception and not the rule. Since VFDs are volunteer, its hard to get them to give up a day to burn.

  2. I know every state does things differently, but in the Rx fires I led in Brevard County, I had the Volunteer firefighters stationed close to the sites burned involved with the operations of the Rx fire throughout the day, not just as stand-by. They were incredibly valuable to me as fire crew, and were the reason for many successful fires.

    1. Zach – you had a real ideal situation. Most Volunteers are working stiffs that hold down full-time jobs to pay the bills, and cannot afford the luxury of taking time off to help with Rx burns. Welcome to the economic reality of 2011 and beyond…..?


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