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Crete Fire and Rescue volunteers part of wildfire control efforts Sunday

Crete Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department members were part of efforts to control wildfires in extreme weather conditions on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 23.

Reports of 24 area departments and well over 100 firefighters fought fires in the southwestern portion of Lancaster County, west of Hallam and in the area of Olive Creek Lake State Recreation Area north to Panama Road. Property owners were asked to evacuate as fires spread quickly due to dry conditions and winds gusting over 50mph.

According to a release from Hallam Fire and Rescue, mutual aid was requested from multiple departments after the initial 911 call at 1:58 p.m. Assistance was expanded to an "all call" where all departments from Lancaster and Saline counties were requested for any assistance they could provide. They estimated 9,000 acres burned with multiple structures lost, including one residence.

The release called these fires "the most difficult and largest that most, if not all, of the fire departments have faced."

Two Crete firefighters sustained injuries requiring immediate treatment, one with burns to his face and another with burns to about 20 percent of his body.

Dr. Brad Elder was the more severely injured volunteer and remains hospitalized at CHI Health St. Elizabeth. Elder is a Professor of Biology at Doane University with 28 years of wildland firefighting experience and has been a member of the Crete department since 2019. He was taken from the immediate scene on Sunday by Lancaster Sheriff's vehicle to a waiting Lincoln Fire and Rescue ambulance on US Highway 77 for transport to the hospital. 

The fires affected many in this rural area, including those with family and friends in nearby Crete, who responded with assistance in a variety of ways. Several City of Crete employees were impacted, including one who sustained minor injuries while volunteering with Southwest Rural Fire Department.

The City of Crete extends sincere appreciation to the volunteer members of Crete Fire and Rescue, their counterparts on area departments, local landowners, as well as the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, Saline County Sheriff’s Office, and Nebraska State Patrol for the hard work and sacrifice in extreme conditions, saving the lives and property of our neighbors.

Hallam reports the following departments responded from Lancaster, Saline, Gage, Seward, and Johnson Counties: Hallam, Crete, Southwest Rural, Southeast Rural, Hickman, Wilber, Pleasant Dale, Malcolm, Raymond, Waverly, Bennet, Eagle, Valparaiso, Cortland, Clatonia, Firth, Lincoln, Beatrice Rural, Adams, Pickrell, Sterling, Garland, Dorchester, and Filley; Nebraska Forest Service had representatives on scene. Also aiding in response efforts: Norris Public Power, Nebraska Game and Parks, Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Lancaster County Emergency Management.