Making history: Eastern Wyo fire is one for history booksWritten by Lacey Brott
Prairie Center – Blackened, rolling hills as far as the eye can see is what a fiery inferno left behind after roaring through the small, tight-knit community of Prairie Center earlier this week.
According to Goshen County Emergency Manager Shelly Kirchhefer, the initial fire was started on the evening of July 10 with a lightening strike at the Bruce Simmons Ranch. It burned roughly 500 acres but didn’t cross Highway 159, as firefighters were able to contain it.
“We had crews working on the fire until about 10 or 11 p.m. They left night roamers to watch the hot coals because we were going into a weather scenario the next day of high winds and red flag warnings,” Kirchhefer says. “Fire crews had determined there were no hot spots, and everything seemed to be extinguished.”
The early morning hours of July 11 arrived with a cold front moving through the area. Humidity dropped, and the wind began howling, resulting in pristine conditions for a prairie fire to reignite.
“Once the fire started back up, there was no stopping it. With the wind blowing 50 to 60 miles per hour, there was nothing we could do. It was so fast and hot,” says Kirchhefer. “Miraculously, no homes were lost. There are burn spots where the flames came right to up to the houses on the ranch, but they were able to control the fire before it engulfed them.”
Kirchhefer also says 12 counties from Nebraska and Wyoming sent trucks to assist, and they counted anywhere from 85 to 100 fire engines at the scene.
She says, “With each truck having a minimum of two to three men in it, there were so many people here to help, and it was very much needed.”
Lieutenant Jeremy Wardell, from the Goshen County Sheriff’s Department, states from an aerial estimation, 25,000 acres were charred – the biggest fire Goshen County has ever seen. Several ranches were impacted, with outbuildings, hay and silage reserves and cattle herds impacted.
Kirchhefer says as of now, the biggest concern is coal dust. The blaze was contained just over the Neb. state line where coal trains travel through frequently.
“Coal dust holds heat, and if the wind would decide to pick back up, that could be bad. Right now we are just trying to mitigate that specific area,” she comments.
Two injuries were reported when a tanker truck and a fire engine working the scene collided, with one man being airlifted to Scottsbluff, Neb. He is now in stable condition.
“What a devastating impact on these families' livelihoods. This community is so close up here, and they’ve already had semi loads of hay to unload. Neighbors helping each other and the outreach to the families has been unbelievable and so heartwarming to see,” she adds.