HomeNewsNebraska Fire Chief Killed While Responding To Massive Wildfire

Nebraska Fire Chief Killed While Responding To Massive Wildfire

by TK Sanders
(Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

A local fire chief in Nebraska was killed Thursday in a head-on collision with another first responder as both units rushed to fight a wildfire. Elwood Fire Chief Darren Krull, 54, and Phelps County Emergency Manager Justin Norris collided with a truck hauling water, according to Fox Weather. Intense smoke conditions had created zero visibility for all parties involved.

At a glance

  • A volunteer fire chief from Nebraska was killed late last week while responding to a wildfire
  • Elwood Fire Chief Darren Krull died from injuries sustained in a high-speed car crash in extremely low-visibility
  • Two other people involved in the car crash survived, but sustained life-threatening injuries
  • Heading into the weekend last Friday, local firefighters had not contained the 30,000-acre blaze beyond zero percent

The fire chief and local emergency manager were responding to a 30,000-acre wildfire call when disaster struck. Nebraska State Patrol said that both the personal pickup truck and the larger water truck were responding to the same call outside of Arapahoe on Highway 283.

Krull, a volunteer fire chief, died at the scene of the crash. Norris, 40, is in the hospital with life-threatening injuries. He is in stable condition as of Friday. The 28-year-old driver of the water truck also sustained injuries. 

“The fire and smoke in the area had created zero-visibility conditions on the roadway at the time of the crash,” Nebraska troopers said in a prepared statement. “Our hearts are with all involved in this tragic crash; as well as those affected by the fire,” Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent Col. John Bolduc also said in a separate statement. “Please keep the firefighters, farmers, emergency managers, law enforcement officers, volunteers, and all others involved in this fire response in your thoughts today.”

Wildfires continue to rage all across the central plains

Significant wildfires have prompted several evacuations across the Great Plains recently. Besides in Nebraska and neighboring Oklahoma, the National Weather Service also issued advisories in Louisiana, southeast Texas, both panhandles, and north-central Kansas.

Currently, multiple agencies are battling the intense fire in Nebraska’s Gosper and Furnas counties. The blaze also impacts southwest Nebraska near Elwood, Arapahoe, Edison, and Oxford. As of last Friday afternoon, firefighters and various agencies had not contained the fire above zero percent.

Wildfires of this nature move quickly when heavy wind conditions interact with dry acreage and lots of detritus. The rapidly-moving smoke and dust clouds, plus the intensely bright heat of the blaze, make travel conditions all but impossible. According to the National Weather Service in Hastings, Nebraska, firefighters faced gusting winds up to 60 mph last Thursday afternoon when the fire first began.

Several residential and commercial buildings also burned in the fire, according to the Forest Service.