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 officially determined. State Fire Marshal Ryan Sylvester tells KNEB News it was of human origin, but power lines, a discarded cigarette or ignition by hot vehicle exhaust have been ruled out. Sylvester tells us perhaps a discarded match, or a jet burner to heat up a liquid, may have started the blaze. He says he’s continuing to conduct phone interviews with those who were in the area at the time, including hunters from as far away as the East Coast.
Baillie 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.