Update on fires in northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota

Northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota fires
Northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota fires
Northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota fires, 10:01 pm MT, August 31, 2012 (click to enlarge)

UPDATE at 11:47 a.m. MT, September 1, 2012:

What we thought were four major fires in the northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota areas are actually three. The large fire near east of Chadron, northwest of Pine Ridge, and south of Oglala, named Wellnitz, is just one VERY large fire that burned from Nebraska into South Dakota. If you notice the gap in the heat icons at the white SD/NE state line southwest of Pine Ridge, the fire must have burned very quickly through some light vegetation and burned out, between passes of the heat-sensing satellite. The MODIS satellite passes over most areas of the world two to three times a day on an irregular schedule.

The two fires nearest Crawford are part of the Region 23 Complex. Here is an update from InciWeb, which was updated at about 12:30 p.m. MT today:

More than 68,689 acres have burned in the Region 23 Complex fire in northwest Nebraska accordingto Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team C officials.

The complex consists of two fires the West Ash Fire near Chadron and the Douthit Fire near Crawford. The fires started by lightning, Aug. 28. Containment of the fires is estimated at 25 percent. West Ash accounts for 44,354 acres and the Douthit fire has burned 24,335 acres. The fires did not grow overnight.

The fires are in rugged inaccessible terrain burning ponderosapine and grass. Red flag warning is expected to continue,possibly for the next three days. Fire fighters worked through the night preparing areas of the fire likely to be affected by potential high winds over the next couple of days.

The InciWeb site also has information about evacuations.

Five Nebraska National Guard helicopters are assisting with the fires. Models being used include CH-47 Chinook, UH-72 Lakota, and UH-60 Blackhawk.

The weather in the area is very conducive to rapid fire spread. A weather station south of Chadron at 11:22 a.m. today recorded a temperature of 89, relative humidity of 13 percent and a wind speed of 21 gusting to 40 mph.

One of the DC-10 very large air tankers dropped retardant on the fires today and yesterday, and is most likely reloading at Casper, Wyoming with 10,600 gallons of retardant with each flight. Casper is 133 miles from the fire near Harrison, not a long flight when cruising at more than 500 mph. The aircraft dropped three loads of retardant Friday and Saturday on the West Ash fire, totaling approximately 34,000 gallons.

Neptune’s Tanker 40, a jet-powered BAe-146, filed a flight plan to travel from Missoula to Rapid City, and is expected to arrive there at about 3:30 MT today. It is likely that it will also be working on these fires. Maybe someone will send us a photo of it or the DC-10 assisting the firefighters on the ground.


Originally posted at 4:06 a.m. MT, September 1, 2012

We will write more about this later, but  now there are four major wildfires burning in northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota. The MODIS heat sensing satellite is showing detections in a new area in South Dakota, south of Oglala and northwest of Pine Ridge.

We had more information about the Nebraska fires earlier, including a fatality that may be related to the fires, and Inciweb has information about evacuations.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

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.

2 thoughts on “Update on fires in northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota”

  1. Gosh, I hope you’ve gotten sufficient information by now! I was panicked too, for the same reason. My cousin Pat is married to Jerry Wellnitz, of Rushville. I’ve talked with Jerry, and pat , and another cousin who lives up by White Clay. Lots of damage, no deaths, not even any serious injuries. It’s heartbreaking to think of all that beautiful country destroyed! You can contact me at crisanddon@earthlink.net if you need phone numbers to call now.

  2. I appreciate the news on the Wellnitz fire which apparently started on my family ranch by lightning. My Aunt and Uncle heard the lightning strike on their farm/ranch and drove out to see that the lightning had started a fire. I live in California and got a call from my cousin yesterday and can’t reach her for news update since I guess some phones are not working. I have heard bits and pieces of my Aunts and Uncles, cousins and other relatives farms/ranches getting pastures burned and some of them had been evacuated. Thank you for reporting on this dire situation. Right now it’s my only link to find out exactly what’s going on out there. No one is reporting on it out here in San Diego since they are focusing on the aftermath and trail of Hurricane Isaac and communication isn’t easy due to some of the power lines and phone lines out. I was just out there in May and now I know when I return, the beautiful land I went horseback riding on will be quite different.


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