Wildfires in 2012 burned over a half-million acres, including 68,000 acres of forest, across Nebraska. The biggest fires were centered in the Niobrara River valley and Pine Ridge, scorching huge sections of rangeland and forest, burning hotter and faster than typical wildfires of the past.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Nebraska Section of the Society for Range Management in Ainsworth recently, Nebraska Forest Service program leader for rural fire protection, Don Westover said that the fires often burned so hot that we are not likely to see trees on those locations any time soon. “There is nothing left to begin regeneration,” he said.
Because of the extreme nature of these fires, steps are being taken to help prevent future fires and prepare for fire flare-ups when they happen, said Westover.
Thanks to the Wildfire Control Act passed last spring by the Nebraska Legislature, the state contracted for a Single Engine Air Tanker airplane during this past wildfire season. To accommodate the aircraft, Nebraska Forest Service SEAT bases were established at Chadron, Alliance and Valentine, with SEAT managers on duty, providing better initial fire attack capability, Westover said. In addition, a mobile base has been developed that can be moved to an airport near any wildfire that needs drops of fire retardant.
Other steps include offering better training to volunteer fire departments and developing improved strategies for in-state management of large fire incidents. Reducing forest fuel loads, particularly eastern red cedar, on private lands, eventually providing corridors of thinned forest in some of the most dangerous fire areas, would help in reducing fire intensity and damage, said Westover.
Extreme heat and high winds have become more frequent, so with increased fuel load, fires spread faster after they ignite. “Fires often exceed the capabilities of volunteer fire departments and agencies to fight them,” Westover said.
You can learn more about wildfire preparedness efforts by reading a related print article in the December issue of Nebraska Farmer or by contacting Westover at 402-472-6629.