Melbeta-Area Fire Now At 4,200 Acres

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Photo – Scott Miller/KNEB/RRN

     A wildfire in the Southern Panhandle that began yesterday in the hills south of Melbeta has grown to 4,200 acres with zero containment as of late this morning.

    Region 22 Emergency Manager Tim Newman told KNEB News that the Smokey Fire has threatened some homes, but no structures have been lost with only a voluntary evacuation order in place.

      Newman said 15 area fire departments had about 2 dozen pieces of equipment and 50-60 personnel on the lines last night with more expected today.

   The Pine Ridge Mutual Aid Association in the Northern Panhandle has responded with the Tri-State Mutual Aid Association in the south part of the panhandle also sending more help. 

    A strike team from the Colorado side of the Tri-State Mutual Aid group is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. 

    Newman said bulldozers have been able to make some fire break lines on the southwest side of the blaze, but it’s not going to be called containment because projected stormy weather later today could lead to rapid expansion.

     Two SEAT planes, Single-Engine Air Tankers, and a larger aerial tanker from Colorado made a limited number of retardant drops before being forced to halt by darkness.

      A total of 4 SEATs from Nebraska and South Dakota have been making drops today with a larger tanker also expected.

      Newman said an emergency declaration has already been signed, allowing Nebraska National Guard helicopters to be called. They’re expected to be available from Lincoln tomorrow.

    Newman told KNEB that wind speeds dropped after sunset last night, allowing  firefighters to focus on structure protection overnight before resuming primary containment operations today. 

    He said the Incident Commanders are working with a goal of structure protection and preventing the blaze from jumping Wright’s Gap Road and burning farther to the west.

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