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Fast-moving Nebraska wildfire scorches 15,000 acres, forcing evacuations

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A fast-moving wildfire in Nebraska that started Sunday afternoon and was “probably man-made” has scorched an estimated 15,000 acres and forced evacuations, according to Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands.

The fire, which officials call the Bovee Fire, broke out Sunday afternoon in the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest, said Travis Mason-Bushman, the forest’s public information officer.

More than 100 firefighters continued to fight the blaze Monday morning, said Mason-Bushman, who said crews hope to stop the blaze from spreading to the west side after controlling it overnight on the east and north sides.

An old volunteer firefighter died after suffering a medical emergency while trying to put out the blaze. The Associated Press reported:.

Mike Moody, 59, has worked with the Purdum Volunteer Fire Department for four decades, according to the AP.

video of the fire, captured by NBC affiliate KSNB of Yorkshows flames and clouds of smoke coming from the forest.

By 7:30 p.m. Sunday, the fire had spread to an estimated 15,000 acres and pushed 15 miles north, Mason-Bushman said. Firefighters spent all night fighting the blaze, and residents were pleaded to “please heed any evacuation orders or warnings from local authorities,” Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands said Sunday.

The surrounding campgrounds and the nearby village of Halsey, in west central Nebraska, were evacuated earlier Sunday, the agency said on Facebook.

The evacuation order for Halsey has since been lifted, Mason-Bushman said Monday, and Nebraska Highway 2 has also reopened after being closed for a few hours on Sunday due to the fire.

The state forest and its campgrounds remain closed and evacuated and will remain “for a while,” Mason-Bushman said.

“We have firefighters continuing the aggressive attack,” Mason-Bushman said, adding Monday’s weather — with temperatures expected for the high 70s and light winds expected — should be favorable for firefighting.

The fire caused “major devastation” at the Nebraska State 4-H Camp, according to a Facebook post of the youth camp, which said the fire had set a lodge and cabins on fire and everyone who had been on the scene had been safely evacuated.

Firefighters were able to save the more than ancient forest Tree nursery Charles E. Besseywhich “grows trees to reforest after fires like this one,” Mason-Bushman said.

The nursery, about a mile west of Halsey, is home to 1.5 million seedlings and “has a longstanding reputation for producing top quality saplings due to its deep sandy soils, abundant watering and relatively long growing season.” according to the US Forest Service website.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Mason-Bushman said, adding that the blaze is believed to have been caused by “some human influence” as no lightning has been reported in the area, which is normally the source of natural fires.

“We’re treating these like a crime scene or like a plane crash — you’ll have trained investigators looking at the spot where the fire started, collecting all the evidence, before we can definitively say what exactly happened,” he said.

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