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Fire Perils Nebraska Town, Forces Evacuations

From Times Wire Services

A lightning-sparked fire raged out of control Sunday along a 20-mile front in northwestern Nebraska, threatening the community of Crawford and forcing the evacuation of a hospital, a nursing home and a park.

Gov. Kay A. Orr issued an emergency declaration for the area, making state money available, and ordered about 30 National Guardsmen to help an estimated 150 firefighters battle the blaze.

The fire also threatened the site of a former Army cavalry post where Sioux Chief Crazy Horse was killed.

It burned to within 1 1/2 miles of the town of 1,300 and authorities feared that a shift in the wind could endanger the town.

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50,000 Acres Burned

The blaze grew to about 20 miles long and six miles wide, had burned 50,000 to 100,000 acres and was far from contained, deputy state fire marshal Jerry Larson said.

“We could see whole lines of trees exploding,” said Marc Anthony, a state game and parks commissioner who flew over the fire. A cloud of smoke was visible about 90 miles away.

The fire had started Saturday on the west side of Ft. Robinson State Park, and Park Supt. Vince Rotherham estimated that 10,000 to 12,000 acres of trees, scrub and grassland in the park’s rugged canyons had burned. It also had charred part of an adjoining wildlife refuge and private land.

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More than 600 visitors were evacuated from the park’s campgrounds, lodge and cabins because of the shifting wind and smoke, although authorities said there was no immediate danger to the tourist facilities.

Wind Complicates Efforts

In addition to a rugged landscape of buttes as high as 4,900 feet and long, narrow canyons, temperatures around 90 degrees and variable wind complicated firefighting efforts, officials said.

Crawford Hospital reported treating several people for minor injuries. Earlier, the four patients at the hospital were taken by bus to the Chadron Community Hospital because of the smoke and closeness of the flames, said Kathy Wigington, Chadron director of nursing services. And about 25 residents of the Ponderosa Villa nursing home were taken to a dormitory at Chadron State College.

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Elsewhere, fires burned out of control in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Wyoming. A fire in Montana was contained.

In Colorado, about a dozen homes were destroyed as a quick-moving forest fire swept out of Boulder Canyon west of Boulder. Authorities evacuated residents of several subdivisions and sent them to a nearby town for the night. The fire had spread to more than 400 acres by late afternoon despite the efforts of 150 firefighters.

In Utah, firefighters contained one of four major blazes that have charred more than 22,000 acres of forest, and expected to have the remaining three contained by late today.

Higher humidity and less wind helped firefighters get the upper hand on the 8,285-acre Divide Fire in the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico.

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In Arizona, flames have charred more than 45,000 acres since the Fourth of July, with officials scrambling to set priorities for manpower and equipment depleted by blazes throughout the West.


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