A white cargo van is being blamed for starting the second fire east of Neligh on Tuesday night.
Two fires less than half a mile apart east of Neligh were called in within 35 minutes of each other by the same passerby.
The Neligh Volunteer Fire Department responded to a fire north of Reinke’s at 6:49 p.m. and a fire along Highway 275 at 7:24 p.m. on the north side of the highway, opposite of the county barn.
According to Neligh Fire Chief Mike Mortensen, a witness confirmed following a white cargo van heading west around the curve of Highway 275 when the van swayed across the rumble bars.
"The witness said he saw four or five large sparks. When he went around the curve, there was already a few flames," Mortensen said.
Although no exhaust or piping was found in the ditch, Mortensen said that appears to be the cause of the second fire. He said the first fire was caused by fireplace ashes being dumped but not fully extinguished.
Carrie Pitzer of rural Oakdale called in both fires - the first on her way into Neligh and the second on the way out of town.
“It’s definitely one of the strangest things I’ve seen in a while,” she said. “My daughter and I were on our way in to watch the Clearwater-Orchard subdistrict game when we saw the first fire and called it in. We missed the game, stopped at Cubby’s for gas and headed home when we saw the second fire.”
Pitzer said she called 911 a second time and told the dispatcher, “You’re not going to believe this, but there’s another fire.”