Fire officials identify cause of blaze that burned thousands of acres in Marion, Chase counties

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 4:29 PM CST
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CHASE COUNTY, Kan. (KWCH) - Update Thursday, March 11, 2021: Fire officials point to a brush pile that burned a couple of weeks ago and still had some embers in it that ignited as the source of Wednesday’s devastating grassfire that burned about 7,000 acres and destroyed a pair of homes in the Flint Hills. The fire started north of Burns in Marion County and spread into Chase County.

Controlled range fires are important for prairie grass and ranchers to make sure even bigger wildfires don’t occur.

On Thursday, Eyewitness News spoke with one family who lost a home and some beloved livestock in the fire. As the winds howled Wednesday, mass chaos started in Marion and Chase counties. Animals were uprooted from their normal grazing lands and homes burned to the ground.

“Doesn’t matter what kind of livestock it is, we are the caretakers of those animals for God,” said Richard Morgan who grew up in Chase County. “I don’t care if they’re just livestock, those little ones are important.”

Robin Morgan said when they saw the smoke from the fire, they knew it was moving fast.

“And we knew that we had a lot of livestock in harm’s way,” she said. “We were doing the best we can to provide a place to go for safety.”

The family said it also lost substantial amounts of hay, and fence will have to be rebuilt.

Update Wednesday night, March 10, 2021: It’s a calmer situation in Marion and Chase counties Wednesday night as fire crews get a handle on a large grassfire called “The Clover Fire.” Thousands of acres burned and two homes were destroyed.

As of 9 p.m. Wednesday, a few crews were still out, monitoring The Clover Fire and mopping up after the fire swept through parts of Marion County into Chase County. Marion County Emergency Management Director Randy Frank said two homes were destroyed, but crews were able to fend off the fire from five other homes.

Fire caused damage to several properties in the area. Wednesday evening, several of the rural property owners were looking for cattle and gathering up their other animals.

The first reports of the fire came in about 2:30 p.m., northeast of Burns in southeast Marion County. Powerful, gusty winds propelled the fire over dray grassland, making it difficult for crews to contain the blaze for a few hours. The Clover Fire was mostly contained by Wednesday evening after burning about 7,000 acres. Fire crews from Butler, Chase and Marion counties responded. The Kansas Forest Service used its air tanker to provide support. Frank said having that resource was critical. Changing wind directions also helped.

Wednesday afternoon: Crews in northern Marion and southern Chase counties are working to contain a large grassfire north of Burns in Marion County and south of Cedar Point in Chase County. Cedar Point is about 12 miles northeast of Burns.

We’re told there are evacuations in the area as the blaze continues to threaten structures. The cause of the fire isn’t known. Eyewitness News has a crew on the scene. The strong, shifting winds and the rugged terrain in the area is presenting a challenge for crews. The fire started in Marion County and crossed into Chase County to the east.

As of 5 p.m., more than 7,000 acres has burned. This is primarily grassland, but we’re told several homes have burned. The Kansas Forest Service is among the agencies responding, providing aerial support with a tanker.

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