Firefighters work to stop a Nebraska wildfire that killed 1

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Firefighters were taking advantage of higher humidity and calmer winds on Monday as they worked to contain a wildfire in rural southwest Nebraska that killed one person, injured at least 15 firefighters and destroyed at least six homes, an official said.

Jonathan Ashford, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Resort Incident Management Team, told The Associated Press that more than 80 firefighters, emergency management personnel and others were helping to battle the blaze, known as the name of Road 702 Fire. It had burned nearly 65 square miles (168 square kilometers) in Red Willow, Furnas and Frontier counties by Sunday night.

Officials initially reported the blaze had spread over more than 78 square miles (202 square kilometers) of mostly hilly terrain, but Ashford said aerial mapping on Sunday gave a more accurate size of the blaze.

The blaze that started last week was fueled by dry conditions and days of high winds.

More favorable weather on Monday forced firefighters to dig trenches and create more breaks along the perimeter of the blaze, Ashford said.

“Tomorrow we expect stronger winds to return, so time is running out,” he said.

In addition to the growing number of firefighters showing up to fight the blaze, the effort also has a few helicopters available to do water drops, he said.

As of Sunday evening, the blaze had destroyed at least six homes and threatened 660 others, as well as 50 commercial or agricultural buildings, Ashford said.

A retired Cambridge, Nebraska, fire chief who was helping as a fire spotter in Red Willow County died Friday night after his truck swerved off the road in a blinding haze of smoke and of dust. The body of John Trumble, 66, of Arapahoe, was recovered around early Saturday.

Trumble was the second person in a month to die fighting a wildfire in southwestern Nebraska. Elwood Volunteer Fire Chief Darren Krull, 54, was killed in a collision with a fuel truck April 7 in Furnas County as smoke reduced visibility to zero.

Fires have been reported in 14 Nebraska counties since Friday, including Perkins, Dundy, Burt, Butler, Scotts Bluff, Cheyenne, Duele, Blaine, Cherry, Brown and Thomas counties, prompting the temporary evacuation of some small towns. Those fires were extinguished or mostly brought under control on Sunday.

In New Mexico, 20 wildfires in nearly half of the state’s 33 drought-stricken counties are burning, including two that merged on Saturday to form the state’s largest blaze. This led to widespread evacuations in Mora and San Miguel counties.

Nebraska remains extremely dry, said Ashford, who urged residents to exercise caution when doing anything that could start a fire.

“The last thing we need is to start another fire that we then have to fight,” he said.

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