Wildfires crossed over Nebraska’s northwestern border onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation over the weekend, forcing evacuation from several communities and destroying at least two structures as it devoured 25,000 acres on the reservation.
The Associated Press reported that the Nebraska fire grew 78 miles in one day. By Saturday September 1 the fire between Chadron and Rushville had grown to nearly 100 square miles, the AP said, quoting Nebraska Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Jodie Fawl. On Pine Ridge, the fire wiped out at least two structures on Friday afternoon, and evacuation orders were issued as the fire raced over 10,000 acres in two hours, the Rapid City Journal reported.
The fire began at 5:18 p.m. on Friday, the Rapid City Journal said, and caused evacuations in Slim Buttes, Calico, Tobacco, Number 4 Payabaya, Lakeside and Oglala communities on Friday evening as the fire reached 11,520 acres. By Saturday, the AP reported 25,000 acres burned on the reservation.
More than 400 firefighters were working to quell the blaze, the Omaha World-Herald reported, and said the Bureau of Indian Affairs was sending two fixed-wing aircraft to assist as well. KILI radio was broadcasting fire updates to listeners, Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele told the Rapid City Journal.
The Red Cloud Indian School narrowly escaped being scathed, though for a while it looked as though the flames were coming right for it.
“Fire update: campus & Pine Ridge not threatened at this time,” read the Red Cloud Indian School’s Facebook page late on Friday August 31. “But a lot of people to the north and west, particularly Lakeside, Slim Buttes, and Oglala, experienced a very harrowing night. Many homes saved, some possibly lost. Fires from this complex have burned over 125 square miles at this point, mostly in Nebraska—an area nearly the size of the city of Omaha. Thank you to the firefighters for your dedication and tireless hard work! Very hot and windy today...not out of the woods yet.”
The school had also posted the evacuation orders for several communities, saying that emergency personnel were going door to door to make sure everyone got out. Many evacuees were told to “take only important documents with you,” leaving everything else behind, according to the school’s Facebook posts.