Ex-fire chief killed in Nebraska wildfires, 15 firefighters hurt

Wind-driven wildfires sweeping through parts of Nebraska killed a retired fire chief and injured at least 15 firefighters, authorities said Sunday.

The man who died Friday night was a retired Cambridge fire chief who was working with firefighters as a spotter in Red Willow County in the southwestern corner of the state. That fire had burned more than 78 square miles (202 square kilometers) in Red Willow, Furnas and Frontier counties by Sunday afternoon.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said firefighters were still working to contain that large fire Sunday, and officials didn't have an estimate of how much of it had been contained.

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Alyssa Sanders, with NEMA, said 66-year-old John P. Trumble, of Arapahoe, was overcome by smoke and fire after his vehicle left the road Friday because of poor visibility from smoke and dust. His body was found early Saturday.

At least 15 firefighters have been injured battling the blazes, including five who were hurt in the fire that killed Trumble, but a spokeswoman said the state agency didn't have details about their injuries.

Blazes have been reported in 14 counties in around the state since Friday, including Perkins, Dundy, Burt, Butler, Scotts Bluff, Cheyenne, Duele, Blaine, Cherry, Brown and Thomas counties. The state agency said those other fires had either been extinguished or mostly contained by Sunday afternoon.

The agency didn't provide estimates of the total area that had been burned by all the fires or the number of homes or other structures that had been destroyed. Roughly 100 calves were killed when one fire in Rising City burned several calving sheds, and at least three fire trucks were damaged or destroyed in the fires.

Sanders said her agency didn't have all of the details about the fires because local fire departments were managing the response to most of them.

Several small towns, including Cambridge, Bartley, Indianola and Wilsonville, in Nebraska's southwest and Macy in its northeast, were forced to temporarily evacuate because of the fires. The evacuation orders were lifted Saturday.

The Nebraska National Guard deployed three helicopters and several support trucks to help battle the blazes.

In New Mexico, 20 wildfires continued to burn Sunday across the state, including one fire that had grown to consume 84 square miles (217.56 square kilometers) of land.