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ATV that caught fire sparked wildfire that destroyed Nebraska State 4-H Camp, officials say

FIRE! Nebraska 4-H Camp Halsey, NE

The Bovee Fire destroyed the Nebraska State 4-H Camp near Halsey. 

Lincoln Journal Star

An all-terrain vehicle that caught fire on a recreational trail in the Nebraska National Forest on Sunday sparked the Bovee Fire that has burned nearly 19,000 acres near Halsey, officials said Thursday.

The Nebraska National Forest & Grassland Service said the fire investigation continues. But officials at a community meeting in Halsey on Thursday said it appeared there was no negligence on the part of the five people believed to be riding the Polaris RZR on the trail used extensively by ATV enthusiasts.

Firefighters have nearly contained the wildfire that burned roughly 30 square miles and led to the death of a volunteer firefighter, officials said. The Rocky Mountain Complex Incident Management Team said Friday morning the fire was 97% contained with remaining uncontained areas “completely surrounded by fireline.” Crews are focused on strengthening the fireline, mopping up and patrolling the burn area.

The federal incident management team will turn control of the fire over to state and local officials on Saturday.

OCTOBER 3, 2022 – Wildfire destroys lodge, cabins at 4-H Camp near Halsey. (Photo credit: Sherry Kennedy)

In Loving Memory
Mike Moody

A funeral for Mike Moody was set for Friday at Sandhills High School in Dunning. Moody, 59, was assistant chief of the Purdum Volunteer Fire Department. He died Sunday after suffering an apparent heart attack while fighting the fire. Read Mr. Moody’s obituary.

Tedd Teahon with the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday that the ATV was on the trail when it caught fire, and that investigators found sand on it from attempts to put it out.

“Right where the fire started, it went right up into the trees,” Teahon said. “A fire extinguisher might not have worked. The sand didn’t work.”

No injuries have been reported, but the fire destroyed much of the Nebraska State 4-H Camp, including the lodge, cabins and the Scott Lookout Tower.

During Thursday’s briefing streamed on Facebook, officials with the U.S. Forest Service addressed questions about the effort to save the camp, including why airplanes assisting in the firefight dropped flame-retardant slurry on homes in the area but not at the camp.

“It was the way the wind blew,” said Teahon, noting that the smoke obscured the camp, complicating efforts to battle the blaze from the air and on the ground.

“We couldn’t see the back of the building,” he said. “The trees torched up and the back wall was fully engulfed. The fire was in the walls, the eaves. The back windows blew out and the smoke rolled out the front. We had no choice but to leave.

“It’s hard. We all thought there was a chance. We tried very hard.”

The first fire burned about 5,000 forest service acres, and another fire earlier this year burned 4,000 acres. Julie Bain of the U.S. Forest Service said a fire in 1965 burned about half of the original 30,000 acres.

“We’ve lost half the forest we had left,” she said.

The 4-H campground opened in 1963.