Better Mapping Puts Fire Near Melbeta At 3,700 Acres With Zero Containment


Photo – Scott Miller/KNEB/RRN

     More accurate mapping Wednesday afternoon reduced the estimated size of the Smokey Fire south of Gering near Melbeta from 4,200 to 3,700-acres, but the fire is still listed with zero containment as it burns mostly in timbered areas.

      Banner County Fire Chief and Incident Commander Tim Grubbs says the weather is posing obstacles to containment efforts, especially erratic wind and a temperature inversion that’s trapped smoke near the ground. Grubbs is concerned that the fire might be very erratic when the inversion lifts.

    Grubbs says personnel and equipment from nearly 30 agencies worked throughout Tuesday night, then were assisted Wednesday by air assets with everyone “working tirelessly to get this fire under control. Containment lines are being established around the entire fire perimeter.

     Several homes in the Wright’s Gap Road area were threatened, but none were lost and only a voluntary evacuation order was issued. Grubbs says Wright’s Gap Road is closed, in part because it’s being used as a containment line. 

      SEAT planes, Single-Engine Air Tankers, from Scottsbluff and Valentine arrived between 5:15 and 5:30 pm Tuesday with 2 others from South Dakota arriving about 8:00 that night. A large air tanker from Colorado reached the fire about 6:30 Tuesday night.

      Grubbs says an aerial attack aircraft was ordered from Casper yesterday morning, Blackhawk helicopters from the Nebraska National Guard have been activated and should be there today, and a multi-mission plane surveyed the fire yesterday.

     The Banner County Commissioners approved a disaster declaration Tuesday, opening the way for more state help including a pair of specialized teams. 

      The Wildland Incident Response Assistance team from the Nebraska Forest Service and the state Fire Marshal’s Office was deployed Tuesday and a Type 3 Incident Management Assistance Team was en route Wednesday afternoon. 

     The Smokey Fire has burned several hundred acres at the Williams Gap Wildlife Management Area, leading Nebraska Game and Parks to temporarily close it. 

  This is the second time in as many years that a wildfire has hit the 1,829-acre Williams Gap WMA. About 60% of it burned in the 4,000-acre Hubbard’s Gap Fire in 2020