Custer County fire burns thousands of acres

Local4 News at 6 Saturday
Published: Apr. 16, 2023 at 11:16 AM CDT
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ANSELMO, Neb. (KSNB) - Over the past few days, Custer County has experienced three fires, but none bigger than the one in Anselmo. Nebraska State Patrol Trooper, Matthew Maus said over 59 square miles have been burned.

The fire initially ignited Wednesday morning around 10 a.m., from a spark off the railroad. It reignited around 1 p.m. before getting out of hand Thursday. Rancher George Cooksley said in his line of work you have to be prepared for these types of fires all the time.

“If you live in the ranch lands and you understand the fire dangers that we’ve been under for the last year with the drought,” said George Cooksley, owner of Cooksley Ranch. “That you got to be there and we were prepared to be there but it was, conditions were such that there wasn’t a lot we can do.”

Cooksley said the wind changed directions during the fire, spreading it before additional help could arrive.

“The National Weather Service had called us and told us that the winds were going to change,” said Mark Christen, Anselmo Fire Department Fire Chief. “So that kind of changed our tactic and we tried to get more people on the east side of the fire because we knew the wind was going to start pushing it east more than it was north or west.”

Christen said they were able to get a crew to the east side, but at the time it wasn’t enough to contain the flame. Adding, the fire was put out due to several fire departments and ranchers assistance. NSP also plays a role in helping communities put out fires, by having an eye in the sky.

“We are part of the Drone Response Team,” said Matthew Maus, NSP Trooper. “So our job comes in a multitude of factors depending on what is asked for by the local agencies. So we may come in and do like on this particular fire a map of the area of the fire to figure out how many acres actually burned.”

Maus said in some other fires the drone would be in the fire truck, helping identify hotspots. Local ranchers said railroad fires haven’t been an issue for quite some time.

“I will point out that it’s been 23 years since we’ve had a railroad fire,” Cooksley said. “For the 20 something years before that, that was not the case, it was fairly constant. So I think there’s a number of things that they have done right. I think there are some improvements and one of the biggest ones that I have right now is managing the fuel load along the track.”

Cooksley said dealing with a railroad company is a process.