The unusually warm winter weather across the state has brought increased fire danger; in turn, putting a strain on rural fire departments.
A grass fire northeast of St. Paul Tuesday destroyed more than 700 acres of land. But it was just one of several grass fires across central Nebraska this week.
From St. Paul to Raymond, fire departments responded to four grass fires within two days.
"The fire indexes have been extremely high," Grand Island Rural Fire Chief Charles Hoffman says.
According to meteorologists at the National Weather Service, those indexes are much higher than normal for this time of year.
"We have seen those warmer temperatures and with that we've seen lower dew points and that's caused lower relative humidity and very dry conditions for our area," meteorologist Cindy Fay says.
Fay says those dry conditions are just right for a widespread grass fire.
"The combination of the favorable grasses or fuels and wind and the low relative humidity will create dangerous conditions or rapid fire growth," Fay says.
That fire growth this week has been in rural areas, drawing volunteers from numerous rural fire departments.
Matthew Helzer is the Assistant Fire Chief in St. Paul. His staff has 25 members, but more than 60 volunteers helped put out the fire Tuesday.
"A lot of local departments are short on help, so that's why we always call for mutual aid," Helzer says.
But those calls for mutual aid can put added stress on all the local departments.
"That becomes a real load on those volunteers, because they have to leave a job or leave family in order to do that," Hoffman says.
And an earlier start to the dry season this year is causing concern for some of those volunteers.
"I hope that this is not a sign of things to come for the rest of the spring," Hoffman says.
Though, he says, rural departments are used to busy times like this, and have specific procedures in place to accommodate them.
And, for now, meteorologists don't expect the threatening conditions to continue.
"We've seen a change," Fay says. "Our winds have been lighter, and now we're seeing relative humidity much higher than we've seen in the past few days."
Fay says that combination should greatly lower the possibility of rapid fire growth across much of the state.