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It has been a tough couple of weeks coming to grips with the grass and cropland fires in and near LD32. There were fires in southern Lancaster County, including Firth and Hallam, Saline County at Swanton, Jefferson County near Fairbury, and neighboring Gage and Nuckolls counties. What we know is that a fire started in Gage County and burned its way to the Olive Creek State Recreation Area in Lancaster County on the afternoon of October 23rd. According to the State Fire Marshal Agency, the fire was accidental, caused by a farmer operating a shredder near Southwest 86th Street and West Apple Road. The fire spread north into Lancaster County where it burned parts of a 6-square-mile area between Southwest 86th and Southwest 100th streets from Gage Road to Panama Road west of Hallam.
The fire injured two Crete volunteer firefighters – one seriously – and destroyed three homes in southern Lancaster County. Many were evacuated and could not return home until the following morning. One of the firefighters, Doane University professor Brad Elder, was injured with third degree burns after he tripped over something, Crete Fire Chief Tod Allen said. He suffered burns on 20% of his body and will remain hospitalized for at least a month. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Brad and his family. If you would like to help cover his medical expenses, you can contribute to his Go Fund Me page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/5uc2q5-brads-medical-expenses.
It was an unfortunate perfect storm that fueled the fires: drought conditions, unseasonably warm temperatures, low humidity and a continuous wind with gusts from the south as high as 55 mph, according to the National Weather Service. While the damage is heartbreaking, it could have been a lot worse without the quick reaction of over 30 fire departments and countless farmers. Farmers got their discs out and created firebreaks around residences, while turning on available pivots to wet down the fields.
Thankfully, the Norris Public Schools campus was spared damage and students returned the following Monday after a late start. Superintendent Brian Maschmann said some staff members and students had to leave their homes because evacuation orders were issued. Luckily the fires did not get close to the Norris campus, Maschmann said. Fire did come within a few miles of the Monolith Carbon Black Plant who immediately initiated their incident command team and have since held a town hall in Hallam on ways to support recovery.
I want to extend my appreciation and eternal gratitude to everybody that came together to fight the fires and help their community. That includes the volunteer firefighters, law enforcement agencies, emergency managers, farmers, school staff and neighbors helping neighbors. I’m proud of you and fortunate to live among you. The generous spirit of LD32 never ceases to amaze me. In the days and weeks ahead there will be damage to assess and pieces to pick up. Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is anything I can do to help you or someone you know, or help you get in touch with the people or department that can. Together, we will stay Nebraska Strong.