A salute to the Lynch, Neb., rural volunteer fire department
The town of Lynch is a small rural community of 250 people in Boyd County located in northern Nebraska. Laying between the Missouri and Niobrara rivers the entire region has been hit hard by the recent flooding caused by the bomb cyclone in mid-March.
Sixty homes and 13 businesses were flooded in Lynch. The entire area lost water, sewer and electricity but the community came together. People on higher ground opened their homes to the families displaced by rising water so everyone had a place to go.
The volunteer fire department stepped up to serve. “The night it flooded we were out at 11 p.m. going house to house getting people out. We hauled them out in the buckets of tractors, so they only saved what they had in their hands.” said Fire Chief Jim McBride. “My own house flooded and I was appointed the emergency commander, so that meant more phone calls and paperwork. Two girls stayed at the fire hall to help with that, the phones never stopped ringing from 5:30 in the morning till night.”
When the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara was washing out, McBride and his department spent hours on the phone making sure everyone was warned and later checking that all residents were accounted for. With all the roads and bridges washed out some of the 21 men on the department were unable to make it in to help and the town was virtually cut off. The firemen put their own lives on hold, spending every day helping their community. Daily from 6 a.m. to midnight they unloaded donations, delivered water and went door to door seeing what people needed. They helped residents get their medications and once the water went down they worked to clean out flooded homes and with the necessary demolition.
The department has also been part of the ongoing search for Kenny Angel, the Spencer man who has been missing since the dam broke; with at least two men sometimes five going out every day searching for his remains. The area is still very dangerous due to the amount of ice remaining along the river, in places 5 to 25 feet deep and up to a quarter mile wide. “Our fire hall became a command center, people would come in for coffee and information. Ranchers would come in the mornings and ask for help.” McBride said. “I told the guys to go home, have a day off, but no one would. It was a week and a half before I finally shut the fire department down and made them go home. We have water now but it isn’t safe to drink, and limited sewer so we all still have porta pottys.”
Since there is only one way to access the town and other communities are also cut off, their fire district has now grown extending into Knox County. There is little hope for things to get better for months, with the state hoping to have a temporary bridge built by August. School kids are unable to cross the Niobrara River to attend school in Niobrara and what used to be a 30 minute drive is now an hour and a half. “With all the roads gone it amazes me the lengths people went to deliver donations, they came from clear across the state and some even had to go up into South Dakota just to get here. We have had a donation of chest waders which will really help. During the flood we were out in the water and it was over our boots and extremely cold. We would try and dry our socks at night only to put them back into wet boots. Guys would come in and say they couldn’t get warm at night. We were pretty happy when the first donation of dry socks came in.” McBride said. “It amazes me all the people that helped.”
McBride fears there will be members of the community who don’t rebuild and will never come back. Some of those up higher from the river had flood insurance but it was unavailable to many. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has finally arrived in the community and will hopefully provide the badly needed assistance.
Boyd County Sheriff Chuck Wrede and his department worked jointly with the firemen. “I’ve been here since 1976 and I’ve never seen anything like this before. There are 8 foot holes in the roads after the water went down. The county is trying to fix the roads but there are big soft spots.” Wrede said.
When the Spencer dam broke it took out the main water district line and half of the county is without water. This has made it very hard on the feedlots in the area. With the poor roads it has been almost impossible to haul the cattle out, some of them are getting out by using irrigation wells. There is only one road open which is gravel and no semis are allowed on it. The livestock losses in the area are yet to be completely tallied as there is still so much ice but the numbers are expected to be tremendous. “We have a long road ahead of us, not a quick fix.” Wrede said.
Boyd County residents are still in need of bottled water as well as fencing supplies but above all they desperately need dry, warm weather. ❖