The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is closing several areas in the Panhandle southwest of Gering to help firefighters battling wildfires.
Cedar Canyon Wildlife Management Area, Montz Point WMA, and Carter Canyon and Montz Point, both part of Platte River Basin Environments, are closed so firefighters are not hindered by vehicle traffic.
These areas are closed to all public access. The public is asked to stay away as area residents may be using the roads to evacuate personal belongings or move livestock to safety.
Firefighters and equipment continue to pour into the Gering area where at least 3 wildfires started by lightning strikes Saturday evening continue to burn.
Incident Commander and Gering Fire Chief Nathan Flowers told KNEB News that as of Sunday morning, about 15 sections of land – as much as 15-square miles, had been burned/
Confirmed losses include at least one home and a number of agricultural structures.
Chief Flowers says the initial callers include Airlink helicopter ambulance pilots, who saw lightning apparently start 3 fires, 2 in the hills south of Summit Ranch and the third in grassland farther east.
Crews from Banner County and Scottsbluff Rural brought the third fire under control, but Flowers says extreme fire behavior in the heavily wooded areas of the first two allowed them to spread quickly to the south and east.
Later in the evening, winds shifted and pushed the flames to the west and north where the fires merged into one large blaze.
At least 150 firefighters from departments throughout the Panhandle and southeast Wyoming have responded and Flowers says a state declaration has been issued which will allow access to additional resources.
Smoke from the Gering area fires made its way as far north as Chadron Saturday night.