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Wildlife area reopens after wildfire

GERING, Neb. — Buffalo Creek Wildlife Management Area, which experienced a monumental wildfire in mid-November, has reopened to the public.

Although the property is open, Nebraska Game and Parks wildlife manager Hunter Baillie of Alliance recommends visitors stay away from burned areas and practice heightened caution. Some trees are still smoldering, and many have been weakened and will pose a risk of falling for years to come.

Estimates show that 1,742 of the wildlife area’s 4,141 acres burned in the fire, primarily in rugged areas inaccessible to most firefighting equipment. The fire also burned on adjacent private property, charring an estimated total of 2,600 acres.

Baillie said damage to trees and other vegetation throughout the burn area is varied.

“Some areas will take a long time to recover as the fire burned very hot, but others will be positively affected,” he said.

Wildlife was displaced from the burned areas and may not return for a while, but some species, such as wild turkeys, are often attracted to such places, he said.

How the fire was ignited has not been determined, but unseasonably warm temperatures, high winds and dry vegetation caused the late-season fire to spread rapidly.

The effort to extinguish the blaze was aided by more than 25 fire departments, the Nebraska State Patrol and the Nebraska National Guard. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission also dedicated staff and resources to the effort.

“We will always be grateful for the firefighters who showed up to help us battle this fire,” Baillie said. “It was a huge job and required a lot of leadership and coordination.”

He noted the region is still extremely dry, and the risk of wildfires continues to loom large. He said visitors to public lands should obey fire restrictions and avoid any activities that may ignite the dry vegetation.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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