Bovee wildfire causes destruction, death near Nebraska National Forest

Oct. 3, 2022, 6 p.m. ·

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The Bovee Fire burns behind structures in the Bessey Ranger District compound on the night of October 2, 2022. Photo by Julie Bain/USFS.

The Bovee wildfire is causing destruction in central Nebraska since it ignited Sunday afternoon.

National Grasslands Visitor Center Director Travis Mason-Bushman said dry conditions and high winds stretched the fire over 15 miles in under 8 hours, burning through more than 15,000 acres of land, as of Monday afternoon.

“The more that fire starts moving away from you, the faster you’ve got to chase,” Mason-Bushman said. “Certainly there are times, too, when under those kinds of extreme conditions, it's just not safe to get in front of the fire.”

Only a plaque and chimney remain Eppley Lodge at the State 4-H Camp. Photo by Sherry Kennedy.
Scott Lookout Tower was among the historic places burned in the fire. Photo by Sherry Kennedy.

The Nebraska National Forest, which covers 90,000 acres in the Nebraska Sandhills and is the largest hand planted forest in the country.

All but one building burned down at the State 4-H Camp. Kathleen Lodl, State 4-H Program Leader, said the camp was dedicated in 1963 and was the first campground in Nebraska. Since its opening, its programs have reached over 30,000 young people.

The Scott Lookout Tower in the Nebraska National Forest also burned. The tower was built in 1944 and was the state’s only functioning fire lookout tower.

The fire also caused one casualty on Sunday. A spokesperson for Region 26 Emergency Management reported that Mike Moody died of a heart attack while fighting the fire on Sunday. Moody was the assistant chief of the Purdam Volunteer Fire Department.

To combat the fast-moving fire, three states have teamed up: Nebraska, South Dakota, and Colorado. Together, the states sent over 100 firefighters to the fire. The states also sent equipment, including 10 fire engines, air tankers, a bulldozer, and infrared mapping aircraft. Mason-Bushman said collaboration is an important aspect of the fight.

“One of the really great things about the way wildland fire works is that everybody works together. When the call comes in, you go.”

With better weather conditions predicted and more help arriving at the scene of the fire, Mason-Bushman said firefighters may soon have the opportunity to get ahead of the fire. The cause is currently under investigation.