Cause of fire at Lake McConaughy determined

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KEYSTONE, Neb. (KNOP) A wildfire destroyed at least eight homes and several other buildings near Lake McConaughy.

Large sections of land along the highway are burnt and smoke can be seen rising from the ashes.

KNOP has reported that homeowners are back on their properties assessing damage, and that donation bins are being placed around the Keystone community to help those who lost property.

Keystone Lemoyne Fire & Rescue Fire Chief Ralph Moul said several firefighters were treated for minor injuries.

He added more than 100 firefighters from a couple dozen departments responded to calls late Sunday morning.

He estimated that Sunday's blaze blackened at least 500 acres.

"It was such a fast moving fire that we didn't have the resources on hand and we couldn't keep up with it," Moul said. "It was traveling faster than we could travel on our rigs on the ground. It covered a mile in three minutes. You're not going to go across that mile with fire engines in three minutes."

The fire originally started on Saturday night and crews worked through the night to put it out. Then, some crews were sent home in the early hours of Sunday morning when the fire was out, Moul said.

However, the fire rekindled around noon central time, and Moul said homes along Highway 92 needed to be evacuated. He estimated that between 50 and 60 people were forced out.

"That fire," Moul began to explain, "was coming at those houses real quickly. You don't have time to escape in those situations. That fire covered the first mile within four minutes."

The chief investigators suspect the original fire Saturday was caused by overheated wheel bearings on a vehicle.

Gerald and Kathie Berry were two of the people evacuated from their home Sunday. They were surprised to see NSP troopers show up at their door.

"They come in the yard and said you gotta evacuate and I said, 'Are you kidding I really don't think it's a problem, I got a hose here and I can stop this.' And they said, 'It's already down to the highway, you better better leave now.' So we grabbed the car here and she says, 'My god the post by the highway is on fire, how are we gonna get out?' And I said that's not much fire and I just drove through that."

The fire did not reach the Berry's home. Instead, it engulfed their garage and destroyed three antique cars. They said those cars together were valued at $95,000.

Despite their loss, they are glad they have their home and that their dog is okay.

"You stand there and you think, 'What do I grab? What do I grab?'" Kathie Berry said with tears forming in her eyes. "After I had the dog in the car and he is okay. (I looked) around and got in (the car) -- I don't know. I'll probably have nightmares for months seeing the flames, 10 foot flames."