Nebraska Sandhills wildfire more than half contained

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This photo provided by the Nebraska National Forest & Grasslands Service shows distant flames Sunday, Oct. 3, 2022 from the Bovee Fire near the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest. By Sunday night, the grassland fire in the state’s Sandhills region had grown to about 15,000 acres, or around 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), according to the Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands. (Julie Bain/Nebraska National Forest & Grasslands Service via AP)

HALSEY, Neb. (AP) — A destructive Nebraska Sandhills wildfire that saw one firefighter die while fighting the flames was more than half contained by Wednesday, officials said.

The size of the Bovee Fire in west-central Nebraska was mapped Tuesday at nearly 19,000 acres, or about 30 square miles (78 square kilometers), up from the 15,000 acres, or about 23 square miles (60 square kilometers), reported Sunday night, according to a report from the Rocky Mountain Complex Incident Management Team.

Officials said the fire was 56% contained going into Wednesday. Continued favorable weather conditions are helping fire crews contain the grasslands blaze that was sparked Sunday afternoon and ballooned over a matter of hours in the tinder-dry region.

The fire destroyed the main lodge and cabins of the Nebraska State 4-H Camp, as well as an observation tower in the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest. Purdum Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Mike Moody died Sunday after suffering an apparent heart attack while battling the fire, officials said.

The flames also forced the brief evacuation of the nearby village of Halsey and shut down a stretch of Nebraska Highway 2 on Sunday as smoke from the fire cut visibility. Officials have said the fire was “human-caused,” but have not released details on how the fire started.

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