Nebraska Wildfire Leaves Nearby Residents Uneasy

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Grant Faint/Getty Images)

Residents worry after the Bovee wildfire tore through over 18,000 acres of central Nebraska and the Nebraska National Forest earlier this month. Notably, Purdum, Nebraska’s assistant fire chief Mike Moody perished in the fire. Additionally, the fire decimated a significant portion of the forest in Halsey and destroyed a beloved 4-H camp, according to a report from the Omaha World-Herald.

Big questions remain for the affected communities: should they replant the forest? Should the 4-H camp be rebuilt? And will people return to the area now that so much has been destroyed?

Much of what the fire decimated were the backcountry trails for ATVs, one of the starring attractions of the Nebraska National Forest. Will tourists and locals alike return to the fire-scarred landscape? Is there a future of recreation in a destroyed, blackened forest?

“We all consider ourselves to be one big community, and we are just in shock,” said the clerk of the village of Halsey Dianna Rodocker. Additionally, there’s the threat of more wildfires. Nebraska is in a severe drought, and the Bovee Fire burned through parched fields and pastures, which sped the blaze along. The fact that this kind of devastation could happen again worries residents. Autumn in Nebraska means strong winds. Coupled with the dry conditions, it’s the perfect formula for a wildfire to spread unchecked.

The Bovee Fire ignited on Oct. 2 and as of Oct. 7, officials had it 97% contained. The cause is still under investigation, but the fire quickly spread through fields and pastures with a brisk southern wind. Fire crews saved the historic Bessey Nursery and CCC Campground thanks to aggressive protection efforts. But, the fire destroyed the Nebraska 4-H Camp and Scott Lookout Tower. The wildfire burned nearly 600 acres of state-owned land, over 5,000 acres of National Forest, and over 13,000 acres of privately owned land.

Nebraska Residents Worried They Could See More Wildfires with Current Drought Conditions

“We aren’t out of the woods,” said Darren Clabo, South Dakota’s state fire meteorologist, who assisted in efforts to contain the Bovee wildfire. “We won’t be out of the woods until we see snow cover.” Snow cover would definitely help to protect the forest from wildfires. By keeping the wood and fuel wet, a wildfire couldn’t catch, or at least would have nothing to spread to.

As for the forest itself, there are talks of replanting it. But, Julie Bain, ranger for the Bessey District of the Nebraska National Forest, says that a lot of conversations need to happen before they can make a decision. The Nebraska National Forest was once the largest hand-planted forest in the world. Volunteers replanted 3,000 trees in 1965 after the Plum Fire tore through.

The Bovee Fire is the second significant wildfire in the Nebraska National Forest this year. Bain says that half the trees from last year are now gone. She said the forest is about 30% of its original size. “It’s not like there’s no forest,” she explained. “It just looks different.”