Camp Worker in the Line of Fire – Literally

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The fire destroyed two cabins and charred half of the wooded property at Nebraska Youth Camp, in Kearney.

A youth worker at a Christian summer camp in southern Nebraska singlehandedly fought a wild fire that brought trees down on his Jeep and threatened to burn the wooded facility to the ground.

Jacob Munsell, the interim caretaker at Nebraska Youth Camp in Kearney, was clearing brush on March 23 when he saw plumes of smoke rising from the forested property nearby.

After calling the fire department, Munsell watched as flames fanned by 60-mile-per-hour winds leapt across the nearby Platte River and raced toward the camp.

"You could see 50- to 60-foot flames across the river," said the 24-year-old, who attended the camp as a youth. "It was coming quick."

The fire swept through the camp, igniting a large cedar next to a wooden cabin, which caught fire and burned to the ground in less than five minutes, Munsell said. "It was just a big poof of flame and then the cabin just went up."

For more than an hour, Munsell worked alone amid heavy smoke to save camp buildings until firefighters arrived. He sprayed down cabins, dumped buckets of water, and raked out flames when the water ran out. Twice, burning trees fell against his Jeep as he ferried buckets of water.

"The smoke was probably the worst," Munsell said. "There were times where you couldn't see more than 20 or 30 feet, and I would have to get back in the Jeep for a while. It was not a fun time. I really don't ever want to do that again."

Eventually, it took more than 100 firefighters to extinguish the fire, which burned 640 acres in southern Nebraska, according to Capt. Todd Walton of the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department.

The blaze destroyed two cabins and charred half of the wooded property at Nebraska Youth Camp, which is run by a nonprofit of the same name.

Munsell, who serves on the camp's board of directors, called the fire a "blessing and a curse."

More than $8,000 in donations poured in from local church groups and individuals in the week following the fire. The camp hopes to have the two cabins rebuilt by summer.

  • JMunsell has more info with links to local coverage. The camp is run off donations, if anyone is interested in helping the address is:
    Nebraska Youth Camp
    65 Sweetwater Ave.
    Kearney, NE 68847