Find out what it takes to solve the wildfire crisis ripping through western and central Nebraska, and around the world. Existing organizations are looking for firefighters, land management professionals, insurance professionals specializing in disaster prevention, mental health professionals, and a growing number of other careers. Technology and innovation processes open the door for entrepreneurs and innovators to shape the jobs of the future.

Understand the Problem

To learn how organizations work together, start by building a shared understanding of the problem.

  • Learn about the wildfire crisis as a whole, along with priority focus areas.
  • Stories of Impact show how people, animals, and ecosystems are impacted by wildfires.

Who is Helping? How?

Explore how organizations are helping people impacted by wildfires from different perspectives.

Current Innovations

Identify known wildfire innovation needs and the entrepreneurs and innovators building solutions.

Learn from the past to create a better future of work.

As you learn about the wildfire crisis, keep building your technology and innovation toolbox. Which technology did you learn about that could help solve the biggest problems facing the people, animals, organizations, and communities impacted by wildfires? What about methods for innovation and change?

Wildfires are uncontrolled fires that burn through grassland, forests, and any combustible vegetation. If not contained properly, these fires can devastate homes, farmland, or entire communities. While wildfires are expected every year in Nebraska, the fires are more intense this year:

  • Drought season started early and will end late this year, creating conditions for a larger number of intense wildfires.
  • Wildfires are typically more common in western Nebraska, but are now spreading to the central and eastern parts of the state.
  • Volunteer fire departments and first responders are overwhelmed by increased demand for emergency services.
  • Fire departments must increasingly collaborate and share resources to address the growing wildfire problem statewide, and beyond.
  • Wildfires are expected to worsen with global warming. Droughts and extreme weather mean wildfire season can now span the full year.

Stories of Impact: Who is Impacted by Wildfires? How?

Firefighters, wildfire insurers, mental health professionals, ecologists and more all work together to make life better for the people impacted by wildfires. These are the stories of what happens after a wildfire tears through a community. How can you help?

Farms & Ranches

Wildfires Devastate Nebraska Producers (FarmProgress)

Thousands of acres of farmland burned, taking the lives of livestock, burning nutrients from the soil, destroying equipment, and devastating the livelihood of families.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube


Pets Go Missing During Nebraska Wildfires (ABC Channel 8 News)

Dogs ran away in terror during evacuations across McCook, Arapahoe, Cambridge, and nearby towns. Some have not yet returned.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube

Families & Homes

Wildfire claims 30K acres & several homes (KETV)

Several homes were burned to the ground, leaving families to rebuild their lives. Other families suffered damaged property.

Read Full Story
Watch on YouTube

Wildlife & Nebraska Games and Parks

Wildlife area reopens after November wildfire (Norfolk Daily News)

Most wildlife was displaced from the burned areas of Buffalo Creek Wildlife Management Area. Some trees are still smoldering, or threaten to collapse at any moment.

Note: The video is not from this specific fire.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube


Deadly Fires Continue Out West, Early in Wildfire Season

In the worst wildfire conditions, firefighters risk injury or death from smoke inhalation, zero visibility driving conditions, sprains from jumps and falls, muscle fatigue, exhaustion, or other hazards in the field.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube

Public Health

Wildfires & Public Health (US Climate & Health Alliance)

Smoke and particulate matter from wildfires can blow for miles, making it hard for people in neighboring cities to breathe. Children, the elderly, and those with cardiovascular or respiratory issues are at greatest risk.

Read Full Story
Watch on YouTube

Power Lines

How Do Power Lines Cause Wildfires? (Texas Wildfire Mitigation Project)

Improperly maintained power lines, or vegetation coming in contact with power lines are the third leading cause of wildfires. It's important to maintain power lines!

Note: The video features Portland General Electric Company's mitigation efforts.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube

Drinking Water

Could Wildfires Contaminate Drinking Water? (Denver7)

Excess nitrate in drinking water can be harmful to human health. Wildfires have been linked in increased nitrate levels in surface water that can last for years. New water treatments and environmental interventions are being explored.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube

Mental Health

Wildfires can cause mental health damage that smolders for years (Heart Attack & Stroke)

Wildfire survivors and emergency response personnel may develop post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), anxiety, depression, or an overwhelming sense of dread for months or years after wildfires threatened their lives and commmunities. These are common, human reactions to trauma that can be alleviated through therapy and support.

Read Full Story
Watch on YouTube

Bridges & Infrastructure

Tales from the Road 702 Wildfire

The Road 702 fire destroyed a wooden bridge used for general traffic and cattle crossing. The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency must assess damage as soon as possible to coordinate repairs.

Read Road 702 Wildfire Article

Public Infrastructure Damage Report

Railways & Transportation Lines

Wildfires disrupt rail transport creating supply chain problems

Fire can disrupt transportation routes for trains, trucks, buses, and other vital transportation & distribution lines. Damaged tracks and roads can disrupt the supply chain on a large scale.

Read Full Article

Sources: Learn More About Wildfires

Growing Wildfire Danger (KETV)

Learn how wildfire season has turned into wildfire year as droughts worsen, and how multiple agencies are working together to save the state from the growing threat of wildfires.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube
Fire Danger Map

Wildfire Risks Near You (Nebraska Forest Service)

Use the interactive map to learn more about current and potential wildfire danger across Nebraska, or enter your address for specific threat levels. Find tips for wildfire prevention and disaster recovery options.

Read Full Story

Wildfires 101 (National Geographic)

Find out what wildfires are, how they commonly start, where they can happen, and what it takes to put one out. Check out the related articles to learn more about how to prevent and prepare for wildfires.

Read Full Story
Watch on YouTube

Problem Exploration Activities

Wildfire Lesson Plans (PennState College of Agricultural Sciences)

Grades 5-8

Find links to three interactive lesson plans about wildfire prevention, habitat restoration, and safe burning methods.

Open Lesson Plans

Fire Ecology Curriculum (USDA Forest Service)

Grades K-12

This curriculum has options for all grade levels. While the materials were developed for the Southwestern Region, most lesson plans can be adapted to the Rocky Mountain Region for Nebraska students.

Open Lesson Plans

Fire Lesson Plans (National Park Service

Grades K-12

Learn about the scientists and other career options to help deal with structural fire and wildland fire. Fire can be good and bad for forest ecosystems.

Open Lesson Plans

Very few people say they work in “Wildfires”. Instead, they work in firefighting, disaster recovery, insurance, disaster prevention, mental health and wellness, ecology, or any number of smaller problems that branch off from the bigger topic of wildfires.

Wildfires are a systemic problem that must be addressed from multiple perspectives to address the widespread impact on families, forested areas, wildlife, businesses, and others affected by this growing crisis.

Businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, researchers, and educators create hundreds of jobs, volunteer opportunities, internships, and apprenticeships. These are all opportunities for meaningful work contributing to the greater good.

Explore some of the organizations and people working together to solve the systemic wildfire crisis across the state.

Wildfires: Systemic Problem Map

Organizations work together to solve the massive wildfire problem facing our state, and the wider world. Strong communities are able to address all these problems using federal, state, and local resources. The best organizations are designed to help people, and run by people who care.

Map of Impact: Organizations Solving Wildfires

  1. Click the orange arrows at the bottom of the map to view more categories.
  2. Click the double arrow in the upper right corner to open List View.

Featured Organizations & Career Pathways

Explore the organizations and meaningful work opportunities systemically addressing wildfires across Nebraska, and beyond. Organizations have been broken down into six different categories that follow along with the problem-solving process for addressing wilfires.

  •  University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Department of Environment & Energy- Air Quality
  • National Forest Service- Wildfire Research Team
  • National Weather Service
  • Nebraska State Fire Marshall- Investigate fires to determine cause and prevent future fires
  •  Firefighters& Emergency Medical Services
    • Prescribed burns
    • Fighting fires & ensuring safety
    • Community Education & Outreach
  •  Civil Air Patrol
    • Track and fight fires aerially
  • Transportation & Distribution Centers
    • Reroute trains, buses, trucks, etc. to avoid fire zones
  • Nebraska Emergency Management
    • Coordinates emergency response across agencies, state and nationwide
    • Requests federal funding as needed
  • Ecologists & Land Management
    • Fire Risk Assessments & Planning
    • Prescribed burns

Meaningful Work Stories

Volunteer Firefighter

Volunteer effort to save Burt County farm from wildfire (KETV)
Learn the reality of being a volunteer firefighter from Robert Sparks who has been fighting fire in rural Nebraska for 14 years. People come together to get the job done. Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube

Firefighters & Conservation

Firefighters Make Fire Work for Them on Prescribed Burn (NPR)

Firefighters learn how to leverage prescribed burns to preserve grassland for ranchers, and preserve wildlife habitats overgrown by trees, without starting a wildfire.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube

Wildfire Training

Nebraska Wildland Fire Academy

Fighting wildfires is fulfilling and necessary, but can be dangerous. Firefighters need proper training to get the job done safety and effectively out in the wild world.

Read Full Story
Watch on YouTube

Nebraska National Guard

Nebraska National Guard battles wildfire by air and ground

Airmen are deployed to drop water on wildfires from above, while soldiers work with local volunteers and firefighters at ground level to fight back flames.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube

Civil Air Patrol

Nebraska Agencies Team up to Fight Fires from the Air

Pilots with the Civil Air Patrol conduct observation flights to detect wildfires early after lightning strikes or dry weather, then alert local firefighters to stop smaller fires before they become uncontrolled wildfires.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube

Fire Behavior Analyst

Anticipating and Solving Fire Problems

Fire analysts deeply understand how fire interacts with different types of fuel, like dry leaves and anything that can burn. Analysts help guide the response plan for wildfires, and help prevent fires from occurring.

Read Full Story
Watch on YouTube

Innovation is needed across all organizations helping to solve the wildfire crisis. Here are some areas ripe for change and innovation:

  • Early detection and tracking of wildfires
  • Firefighter safety (smoke inhalation, muscle injury, exhaustion, etc.)
  • Find alternatives to toxic firefighting foams containing PFAS, a known cancer-causing chemical.
  • Build better databases to track equipment and trained personnel availability across fire departments and partner organizations.
  • Notifying homeowners and businesses of wildfire danger ASAP
  • Firefighter and land management personnel recruitment and training practices
  • Updating regulations and infrastructure surrounding building codes, power line maintenance, clean energy, and climate action.

Sources: Learn More About Innovation Needs

Bringing tech innovation to wildfires: 4 recommendations for smarter firefighting as megafires menace the US (The Conversation)
Read what exists now, and what should exist across these key areas:
  1. Better, more accessible fire technology
  2. Coordinating everyone and sharing data
  3. Funding, with a role for private companies
  4. Building resilient communities
Read Full Article
Innovating Wildfire Insurance (USDA- Forest Service)

Learn about existing wildfire insurance models, and how wildfire insurance could be tied to ecology and land management practices to reduce premiums. Check out other insurance-related innovations in the grants websites mentioned in the article.

Read Full Article
Wildland Fire: Infrastructure Law (U.S. Dept. of the Interior)

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law aims to invest in wildfire preparedness, fuels management, post-fire restoration, and fire science. Learn specific amount allocations and resources plans.

Read Full Article
Nebraska State Forest Action Plan 2020 (National Forest Service)

Read about priority areas, known needs for innovation and change, and key players in fire management in Nebraska and across the nation.

Read Full Article
Toxic Firefighting Foam (NTV ABC)

Learn not so new discoveries about the firefighting foam that has been proven to have cancer causing chemicals. What are the alternatives? How much is still in use? What about the health of those already affected?

Read Full Article
Fighting Wildfires: Firefighter Hazards (National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health

Understand the most common causes for injury or death for firefighters, and current ways to prevent disaster.

Read Full Article

Wildfire Innovation Stories

Snappy Workflow

Kearney start-up received nearly 1 million in investments for wildfire prevention (KLKN)

Poorly maintained power lines can spark wildfires. Snappy Workflow automates thermal and visual inspections of power lines using computer vision, a field of artificial intelligence. Image data of power lines are collected by thermal cameras mounted on the roof of a car. Power lines can be repaired before they can harm communities.

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube
Business Website

Ring Doorbell Early Warning System

Nebraska Teen Saves Home From Wildfire Thanks to Ring Video Doorbell (Fox News)

A teen was home alone when his Ring Doorbell alerted him to movement outside his door. It was a wildfire. The teen was able to call 911 and save his family's home and surrounding buildings. How could similar systems be used for early wildfire detection in homes and businesses?

Read Full Article
Watch On YouTube

Drone Amplified

How drones are fighting fire with fire in the American West (The Hill)

Prescribed burns are used to clear out dry trees, brush, and common fuel sources for wildfires. Firefighters are put at risk when igniting prescribed burns. Drone Amplified helps firefighters stay at a safe distance while drones start fires aerially by dropping balls filled with chemicals that ignite upon landing.

Read Full Story & Watch Video
Business Website

Offutt Air Force Base

Virtual Reality Firefighter Training

Offutt Air Force Base began using the virtual reality firefighter training system made by FLAIM to improve safety, reduce supply costs, ensure equipment and vehicles are available for real emergencies, and reduce exposure to toxic chemicals. VR prepares first-time firefighters for intense wildfire situations.

Read Full Article

Union Pacific

Streamlining Communication & Rerouting Train Traffic

Customer Service professionals at Union Pacific (UP) rerouted traffic away from wildfires by using data from outside agencies, in-house mapping and real-time train movement tools to monitor the line of fire. UP streamlined communication in-house and across partner agencies with Microsoft Teams.

Read Full Article


Wildfire Emergency Planning

Simtable developed a 3D modeling software for wildfire simulations. The software allows emergency planners to predict what will happen if wildfire spreads across certain areas. Simulations can also be viewed through a phone app by first responders on the ground to plan response in real time.

Simtable’s Website


Z-Fire: AI-driven Climate Risk Analytics for Insurance

The Bershire Hathaway Homestate Companies, headquartered in Omaha, began using Zesty.ai’s Z-Fire climate risk analytics tools to improve coverage options, and reduce costs for homes and businesses in high-risk areas for wildfire and natural disaster.

Read Full Article

Augmented Reality Firefighting Masks

Masks with built-in thermal display

Traditionally, firefighters carry a hand-held thermal imaging camera to detect heat spots not visible through smoke and walls. AR masks like 3M’s Sight-In Mask Thermal Imager, and Qwake’s C-Thru display thermal readings directly on the mask using AR technology to free up firefighter’s hands and save lives.

Read How it Works

Tech Exploration Activities

Try these activities to explore and understand the technology that is changing the way we fight wildfires across Nebraska, and around the world!


Drone@Home Activities (Federal Aviation Administration)

Kid & Adult Options

Experiment with drones by doing scavenger hunts, honing your navigation skills, and learning about drone-related careers.

Find Activities


Designing Drones (TRYEngineering)

Ages 8-12+

Learn how drones are designed through experimentation with different materials and variables. Design a drone that will drop slowly through the air.

Open Lesson Plan


Agricultural Drones (SC Farm Bureau)

Grades 3-6

Learn how drones are used to check the health and safety of livestock and crops to help farmers grow the best harvest possible.

Open Lesson Plan

Machine Learning

Teachable Machine (Google)

Adults & Teens

Build your own code-free machine learning model to recognize and classify images, sounds or poses. Add your model to a website, or combine it with hardware to try new things.

Open Tutorial

Machine Learning

Meaching Learning Projects (Machine Learning for Kids)

K-12 & Adult

Use Scratch drag and drop programming, or Python to experiment with machine learning for image classification, control virtual devices, recognize patterns, and understand how AI is used in the real world.

Open Lesson Plan

Machine Learning

Learn Artificial Intelligence (IBM)

Grades 3-6

Learn how machine learning is impacting industries and changing the world of work. Build a chatbot, then explore careers in AI.

Open Lesson Plan

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