OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The wildfires burning in north-central Nebraska threatened to force the evacuation of a second small town Tuesday and continued to interfere with boating along the scenic Niobrara River.
Monday's windy, hot weather helped the main Fairfield Creek fire expand to nearly 92 square miles — an area just bigger than the state capital of Lincoln. Two other smaller fires about 20 miles east of the main fire had burned more than six square miles. And Tuesday's high temperature again topped 100 degrees.
Officials estimate the fires, which have already destroyed at least 10 homes, are about 15 percent contained. More than 200 firefighters and 4 helicopters are fighting the fires, and three firefighters have been injured.
A surge of new firefighters is expected to join the fight over the next day or so. Officials said that will allow give some of the crews a chance to take a break and provide additional help in containing the fire.
Nebraska Emergency Management Agency spokesman Mike Wight said the town of Sparks, which has some cabins and a couple river outfitting businesses, is on alert Tuesday for possible evacuation. A 14-mile stretch of the river valley, which is known for canoeing and tubing, already has been evacuated between Norden and Highway 183. A section of Highway 12 between Springview and Norden is closed.
Much of the fire-swept land near the river is rugged, forested and populated with cabins, so only 17 residences had been evacuated as of Tuesday morning. But the fire covers a large area north and south of the river in Keya Paha and Brown counties, and part of Cherry County. Federal officials have closed the river to boating downstream of Smith Falls State Park.
Part of the challenge is that the densely wooded ravines are difficult for firefighters to reach, Wight said. And when the wind picks up, the fire can spread quickly up those ravines.
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