Mar 9, 2017

Kansas Wildfire Largest in State History: Multiple Blazes Leave Six Dead, Thousands Evacuated Across Plains

Clark County, KY
Oklahoma City, OK
Reno County, KS
Hutchinson, KS
Amarillo, TX
Gray County, TX
Buffalo, OK
Logan County, CO
Phillips County, CO
USA
by
The Weather Channel via Associated Press
Firefighters from across Kansas and Oklahoma battle a wildfire near Protection, Kansas, Monday, March 6, 2017. Photo: Bo Rader, The Wichita Eagle via AP
Firefighters from across Kansas and Oklahoma battle a wildfire near Protection, Kansas, Monday, March 6, 2017. Photo: Bo Rader, The Wichita Eagle via AP

Kansas

The wildfire spanning two counties along Kansas' southern border with Oklahoma is now the largest in the state's recorded history. The blaze is one of a series of fires fanned by high winds that contributed to the deaths of six people and forced thousands to evacuate across four Plains states. 

Most of the burned land is in Kansas, where more than 1,000 square miles have gone up in flames.  Emergency officials in the two counties said Thursday morning that fire is largely contained, with crews working to monitor hot spots.

Winds are expected to continue to drop, but Comanche County Emergency Manager John Lehman says the ground is "extremely dry," so it's possible the fire could re-ignite. In neighboring Clark County, emergency management spokeswoman Allison Kuhns says "frankly there not much left to burn."

The ranching community in the area has been hit particularly hard. 

"It's pretty much a catastrophe," said Kansas rancher Greg Gardiner as he looked out on his charred land near Ashland, where he figures he's lost at least 500 cattle. "It's as bad as a mind can make it."

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It is too soon to know yet how many animals perished. In Clark County, where Gardiner lives, ranchers so far have lost about 2,500 adult cattle and at least 1,000 calves, said Randall Spare, co-owner of Ashland Veterinary Center.

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Elsewhere, the largest evacuations were in Reno County, where 10,000 to 12,000 people voluntarily left their homes Monday night, said Katie Horner, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Emergency Management. She said 66 people from the area were in shelters Tuesday in Hutchinson, which is 40 miles northwest of Wichita...

Several hundred more people evacuated their homes in Russell, Ellsworth and Comanche counties, which are in central Kansas.

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Texas

In the Texas Panhandle, three fires have burned more than 195 square miles of land and killed at least four people. 

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Oklahoma

A woman had a fatal heart attack while fighting a blaze in Buffalo Tuesday, reports the Associated Press. Officials say she was trying to keep her farm in Harper County from burning.  

Oklahoma Forestry Services said 200,000 to 300,000 acres had been charred in Beaver, Harper and Woodward counties as of Tuesday. 

Numerous residences and secondary structures were burned by a wildfire estimated to be 185,000 acres in size near Knowles and Gate. Several other fires were burning near Selman, Woodward and Empire.

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Colorado

In northeastern Colorado near the Nebraska border, firefighters lost ground to a blaze in rural Logan and Phillips counties. They had the blaze 90 percent contained Monday evening, but only 50 percent contained Tuesday, despite working overnight to douse hot spots and flare-ups. The fire has burned more than 45 square miles of land and destroyed three homes. Nearby residents were warned to be ready to evacuate if the fire advances toward them.

More than 70 firefighters from 13 departments battled the blaze, which was reported east of Sterling on Monday morning. The fire, which was driven by wind gusts of nearly 50 mph, jumped Interstate 76 and spread into Phillips County.