Naturally Nebraska: Ainsworth Fires


In Nebraska, one thing remains a constant – You can never count on the weather.

In the start of our new series "Naturally Nebraska," NTV's Annie Andrews will look at natural disasters in and around our state, and how a FEMA declaration can make or break the rebuilding process.

In Ainsworth, to the surprise of many, FEMA decided the Region 24 Complex Fires did not meet the standards for a federal declaration. Without the declaration, the burden is now directly on the backs of those left burned.

"We're expecting it, but if we don't then economically were facing a second disaster for this area," said Doug Fox, the Emergency Manager for the Ainsworth Fire.

Fox said that three months ago, while he still had hope. Now, he's facing his worst fear. "The economic impact is going to stretch for 10 to 12 years," he said.

At the end of September, two months since the fires began, Region 24 learned their fate. In a letter to the governor, FEMA wrote:

"Based on their review it has been determined that the damage was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and local governments affected...therefore your request for a major disaster declaration is denied."

Not enough for FEMA, but enough to put full families out of business. "Our barn burned," said Bill Barnes. "That was the main thing, our barn burned."

Stories like Bill Barnes are all over Ainsworth. In Keya Paha County, part of the top 100 poorest counties in the nation, six families lost everything and are now homeless.

"Most of the damage was done in Keya Paha County, of course you have Cherry and Brown too," said Fox. "But, if you look at the severity and the magnitude, yeah to me it's a declaration. It's a disaster."

There are three types of FEMA assistance: private, public, and hazardous. All have their own standards that must be met to qualify. Region 24 didn't meet any of the requirements, said Fox, despite racking up a multi–million dollar bill.

"I'm still saying $7 to 8 million probably more than that."

When the governor called in the military, it came with state aid. Direct costs to control the fire which had topped $5 million will get covered.

Fox has put in an appeal with FEMA, they are still waiting to hear the results.