LIVE BLOG: Highlands fire determined to be suspicious

Published: Mar. 5, 2017 at 9:29 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn
UPDATE (Friday, 3:50 p.m.)

Hutchinson fire investigators and law enforcement have determined that the cause of the Highlands fire is suspicious in nature.

The Hutchinson Fire Department released the information this morning. No other details were given.

The fire department says all evacuations have been lifted. Residents were allowed back into the area on Thursday at 3 p.m. and the area was re-opened at 6 p.m. to the public.

Crews will work today to extinguish the remaining five percent. Firefighters continue to focus on 82nd Avenue & Plum Street diagonally NW to 95th Avenue & Monroe Street.

At 7:00 p.m., the 844-834-3659 and 844-834-3658 information number will be deactivated. If you discover damage to your property that has not previously been reported, please contact to the Hutchinson Fire Department at 620-694-2871.

Residents that have a questions about their insurance coverage or having an issue with their insurance company can call the Hutchinson Fire Departmentl Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Consumer Assistance Hotline is 1-800-432-2484 or you can visit


Volunteer agencies, and local, state and federal government agencies will provide information and assistance through two multi-agency Resource Centers to Kansans affected by the recent grassfires.

One center will be set up at the Kansas State Fair grounds in Hutchinson Sunday, March 12, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. The second center will open at Ashland High School in Clark County Tuesday, March 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Emergency Animal Shelter at the fairgrounds closed and remaining domestic animals were taken to the Hutchinson Animal Shelter and their owners have been contacted. If you have questions contact Stacy Cleaves at 620-694-1924.

For information and updates, residents can call 2-1-1, the information hotline by United Way. Also you can make financial donations on 2-1-1 or

, and 100 percent of those donations will come back to the local community.

UPDATE (Friday, 10:15 a.m.)

The Kansas Adjutant General's Office says a majority of grassfires are now under control across the state.

Firefighters continue to work active fires in Clark County (70 percent contained), Comanche (90 percent contained), Ellis (98 percent contained), Reno (95 percent contained), and Rooks (97 percent contained). Fire crews will continue to monitor all fires for hot spots and flare-ups. According to figures from local county officials across the state, the estimated total number of acres burned now stands at approximately 711,950 acres.

Yesterday, Governor Sam Brownback signed Executive Order 17-01 to assist fire relief efforts throughout the state. The executive order facilitates the immediate delivery of large quantities of hay, feed, fencing materials, and other relief supplies by waiving certain motor carrier regulations.

The Kansas Livestock Association is working with private donors to provide hay for cattle in counties that suffered extensive loss of grazing lands and baled hay. Anyone wishing to donate to these efforts should contact KLA. Information is available on the KLA website at


Although there is no statewide burn ban, residents are urged to contact their local emergency management or sheriff’s office to find out if a burn ban exists in their area.

The Kansas National Guard has two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with collapsible 660-gallon water buckets assisting ground fire crews in suppressing fires in Clark County. Two CH-47 Army Reserve Chinook helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft from the U.S. Forestry Service have also been conducting water drop operations. Since these missions began, the aircraft have dropped approximately 263,410 gallons of water.

The Chinook helicopters and the fixed-wing aircraft will demobilize today. Two Black Hawks will remain in Clark County to assist ground crews.

UPDATE (Friday, 8:30 a.m.)

"Thank you's" continue to pour-in for firefighters and first responders across the state.

Justin Clowdis said when he and his fellow firefighters returned to their fire station in Minneola, there were multiple cards and posters that had been made by local students.

While wildfires across Kansas dwindle, "thank you's" continue to pour in for firefighters and first responders who have...

Posted by KWCH 12 Eyewitness News on Friday, March 10, 2017
UPDATE (Friday, 8:15 a.m.)

As firefighters in Reno County begin to put an end to a fire that has burned for nearly a week. The local sheriff posted his "thank you's" to Facebook.

"As we wind down the Law Enforcement role at the Highlands fire I want to thank the firefighters for all of their hard work this week. It was truly amazing how many homes they were able to save. Interim Chief Doug Hanen did an outstanding job, making some of the hardest decisions of his career but they paid off. Thanks to all of the outside fire agencies, the 20 some law enforcement agencies that sent us help, the 911 Communications center and there outside assistance, Emergency Management, GIS staff, and Public Works. Without you none of this would have been successful. A big thanks to the Kansas Incident Management Teams and the Rocky. Mountain Incident Management Blue Team for all of their expertise. And last but not least, the Citizens of this great county. To those evacuees that were patient with us while we did our jobs. For the few that weren't patient and we exchanges some harsh words, I apologize for that but you were not understanding the total scope of this event. The outpouring of kindness from those donating food, water, essentials etc. we so appreciated and we thank you. To my staff, who go out and do a great job everyday, but really step up in times of need and whether it's at the big event or maintaining daily operations, perform it loyally to the Citizens of Reno County. Sheriff Henderson

Henderson did say to report additional fire damage call 620-694-2871.

UPDATE (Thursday, 9 p.m.)

Fire officials say the Highlands fire in Reno County is now 95-percent contained and the evacuation area has been lifted for all areas.

For information and updates, residents can still call 211, the information hotline by the United Way. You can also make financial donations by calling 211 or by

. One hundred percent of donations come back to help the local community, fire officials say.

The emergency animal shelter at the fairgrounds is shutting down, and remaining domestic animals will be taken to the Hutchinson Animal Shelter, fire officials say.


UPDATE (Thursday, 7 p.m.)

The American Red Cross is partnering with other local disaster assistance organizations to open a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) from 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday (March 12) at the Kansas State Fairground Encampment Building, 2000 N. Poplar St. in Hutchinson

The Red Cross says trained caseworkers will be available to help people create personal recovery plans, navigate paperwork and locate assistance for their needs including housing information, personal items and food, cleanup support and financial assistance.

“The Red Cross is proud to join our partner agencies in the area to help those affected by the fires navigate the road to recovery,” said Nicole Bartman, Executive Director of the Red Cross. “We are

expecting there to be many needs in the community including assistance with cleanup efforts in homes and yards.”

Those applying for assistance are required to bring identification showing their address and proof of residence to be eligible for assistance from some agencies, the Red Cross says.


UPDATE (Thursday, 3:30 p.m.)

Some homeowners in Reno County are allowed back into the evacuated area for the first time since they were forced to leave due to wildfire.

They were provided an escort into the still-evacuated area Thursday. We've learned 10 homes in Reno County were destroyed in the fire. Evacuated families met at the command center in Hutchinson, and spoke to officials who gave each of them an envelope with their house information and other details about their situation.

The evacuation zone is still in effect. The Reno County Sheriff's Office will allow families who live in evacuated areas back into their homes, but they must show an I.D. before returning. All other traffic is still prevented from driving in those areas until 6 p.m.


UPDATE (Thursday, 3 p.m.)

Fire officials in Reno County are preparing to give another press briefing, providing an update on the wildfires in the area. In a Facebook post, the Reno County Sheriff's Office says there is good news to pass along.


UPDATE (Thursday, 10:20 a.m.)

Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson says a grass fire in the Highlands area and Rice County is now 90% contained.

Henderson says the evacuation area has not changed, but Plum Street is open from 82nd going south and everything east of Halstead is open. They hope to open more area today.

Currently, 10 homes and 11 other outbuildings, vehicles and farm implements have been destroyed by fire. There are no fatalities and no additional injuries. If you have not been notified of damages, call 844-834-3659 and a representative of the Sheriff's Office will call you back.

Domesticated animals have been moved to the Hutchinson Community Animal Shelter and the animals' owners have been notified.

Electrical companies are in the area taking care of downed and dangling power lines. Henderson says the companies say any downed lines should be dead, you are advised not to go around them.

The Red Cross shelter will be on standby until the evacuation is lifted.

There will be no air drops today. The Kansas National Guard has moved the helicopters to fight fires in western Kansas.

UPDATE (Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.)

As the weather begins to cooperate and things calm down, we have learned a ninth home was destroyed by the fire in Reno County. Overall, though, the amount of property damaged is considered much less than what crews initially expected.

Hutchinson Deputy Fire Chief Doug Hanen says after days of nonstop work, crews are finally starting to see an end in sight.

"We're starting to wind down," Hanen says. "There's not near as many hotspots that's out there causing us issues. It's kind of a patrol tonight only, kind of making sure of things, and tomorrow, we'll ramp back up again. The weather is finally starting to cooperate a little bit. Definitely moving in the right direction."

There is still no timeline on when the rest of the evacuation area will be lifted in Reno County. Hanen says there is still a lot of work ahead to make sure the threat of a rekindle is gone.

Gov. Sam Brownback was in Hutchinson Wednesday to tour the damage in Reno County. He got a view of the damage from the air and on the ground. The governor encouraged people to keep those who are impacted by the fires in your thoughts and prayers.

"It's terrible, Brownback says. "We've got a lot of damage. We have great firefighters and great planning, and the damage could've been far worse if they hadn't gotten in there and really stood the line and held the line and held the fire from going into broader areas."

In southwest Kansas, more than 350,000 acres have burned in Clark County and another 150,000 have burned in Comanche County, making the wildfire in the area the largest single fire on record for the state.

Some people around the town of Englewood have been out of their homes since Monday and at least 12 structures have been destroyed in the area.


UPDATE (Wednesday 7:10 p.m.)

At 7 p.m., residents east of Halstead and south of 69th Avenue were allowed to retrun home. This includes the Yucca Dunes Addition, Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson says. Wildfire in Reno County is up to 85-percent contained.

Still in evacuation are residents east of Monroe Street to 82nd Avenue, then east to Plum Street, south to 69th Avenue, east to Halstead and south of 108th.

Henderson says there is still interior heat coming from Cottonwood trees and work continues in timber areas. There have been no fatalities in Reno County. Henderson says two firefighters were injured.

Henderson says nine homes were destroyed in the county. A burn ban remains in effect on all controlled or open burning.

The remaining residents at the Red Cross shelter at the Kansas State Fairgrounds have been able to return home. Henderson says the shelter will be on standby until the evacuation is lifted.

For information and updates, local residents can call the non-emergency line at the Emergency Operations Center at 844-834-3659. The number for the new fire information line is 844-834-3658.

Henderson says domesticated animals have been moved to the Hutchinson Community Animal Shelter and the animals' owners have been notified.


UPDATE (Wednesday 7 p.m.)

Reno County officials give another update on progress being made on the Highlands fire.

You can watch a live stream of the briefing below.

Latest on Reno Co wildfire. Situation continues to improve!

Posted by Deedee Sun on Wednesday, March 8, 2017
UPDATE (Wednesday 4 p.m.)

The Kansas Department of Emergency Management says the wildfires burning in Kansas are the largest in the state's history with more than 650,000 acres burned. More than 502,000 of that total has burned in Clark and Comanche Counties.

Last year's

burned more than 400,000 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma.

In Reno County Black Hawk helicopters continue dropping water in the area to prevent fires from flaring up as hundreds of crews on the front line continue to fight the fires.

"All of that human commodity that's just been pushed to its absolute brink, but I will tell you this, they all responded with the courage and tenacity and with the steadfast determination that we are going to win this," McPherson Fire Chief Jeff Deal says.


UPDATE (Wednesday 3:15 p.m.)

Beginning Wednesday evening, the Dodge City Community College campus will provide housing for 29 helicopter pilots, called in to assist in the fight against wildfires.

"We know just how important the mission that has been placed on these pilots' shoulders is to the firefighting efforts for our region, and we will continue to support their mission as long as needed," says Dodge City Community College President Harold Nolte.

The college says it was called on to host the pilots because the Kansas Emergency Management said all hotel resources in the Dodge City Area were already at full capacity.

UPDATE (Wednesday 3 p.m.)

Reno County officials say they are opening everything south of 69th Avenue and everything east of Halstead. The west evacuation line has not changed.

The fire remains 75% contained.

On the north side of the fire, crews are concerned with Cottonwood trees that have been hallowed out by fire and have a chimney effect. Cottonwood trees are smoking on the west side of the fire, and work is being done in the timber areas. Black Hawks are working on Cottonwood trees on the southwest side of the fire that are smoldering.

Eight homes were lost in the fire. Officials are currently notifying those with

confirmed destroyed property and setting up a time to let them inspect it. If you are not contacted that means your residence is stil intact. While there may be damage, it is still inhabitable. The Red Cross is coordinating mental health workers who will be on site if needed.

The Emergency Animal Shelter at the fairgrounds is shutting down. Remaining domestic animals will be taken to the Hutchinson Animal Shelter, and their owners have been contacted. If you have questions contact Stacy Cleaves at 620-694-1924.

The next briefing will take place at 7 p.m.

UPDATE (Wednesday 10:45 a.m.)

Reno County officials opened K-61 this morning as crews continue to try and tame a wildfire in the Highlands area. They say the fire, which has burned at least 6,300 acres in Reno and Rice County, is 75% contained.

Crews continue to monitor hot spots. Four Black Hawk helicopters will continue air drops on problem areas.

Officials say no one has died in the fire, but two firefighters were treated for minor injuries. One had muriatic acid splashed in his face. The other suffered a back injury during a fall.

Eight homes were destroyed. One vehicle and numerous homes were damaged.

The evacuation area now includes 43rd Ave to 108th Ave/County Line, and from Plum to Old K-61 Highway. Also, 82nd, between Plum Street and Monroe Street, will remain closed.

There are active fires in other counties including Clark, Comanche, Ellis, Ellsworth, Lincoln, Rooks, and Russell.

Multiple wildfires have burned more than 650,000 acres across Kansas since March 4. Clark and Comanche Counties have been the hardest hit, with estimated 351,000 acres and 151,000 acres affected.

A semi driver died on Tuesday while driving through the fires in Clark County. Fires have killed an unknown number of livestock in several counties. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment Bureau of Waste Management is providing guidance to livestock owners for the disposal of dead animals. For information, go to the

or call Ken Powell at (785) 296-1121.

Fire has destroyed numerous homes and other buildings.

Reno County will hold another briefing at 2:30 p.m.

UPDATE (Wednesday 6:20 a.m.)

The Buhler School District (USD 313) is closed today because of the continuing efforts to fight the fire.

We expect an update from Reno County Emergency Management at 10:00 a.m. today. Count on us to carry that news conference live here on and through Facebook Live.

UPDATE (Tuesday 10 p.m.)

The Kansas Division of Emergency Management says officials estimate that wildfires have burned about 656,420 acres across the state. Officials estimate that more than 351,000 acres burned in Clark County, about 28,000 acres burned in the Wilson Lake Complex, about 7,200 burned in Reno County, about 700 burned in the Ford Complex, about 5,000 burned in Rooks County, about 3,000 burned in Ness County, about 57,000 burned in Lane County, about 49,920 burned in Lincoln County, about 3,000 burned in Ellis County and about 151,000 acres burned in Comanche County.

FEMA has approved Federal Fire Management Assistance Grants for fires in Clark, Comanche, Ellsworth, Ford, Lincoln, Ness, Rooks and Russell Counties. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management urges anyone wishing to contribute to the relief efforts to donate cash to disaster-relief organizations rather than donating goods.

"KDEM recommends Kansans consider donating to reputable disaster relief organizations of their choice or local organizations within the affected communities," emergency officials say.

In Reno County, the Kansas Division of Emergency Management says Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters dropped 230 buckets of water, which amounts to approximately 138,000 gallons of water. Also in Reno County, school is canceled Wednesday for the Buhler school district (USD 313).

On Wednesday, two U.S. Army Reserve Chinook helicopters from Gardner are set to partner with the Black Hawks and two Forest Service fixed-wing aircraft in fighting wildfires in Clark County. State emergency officials say the Chinooks are larger than Black Hawk helicopters and can drop about 2,000 gallons of water per run.

An additional shelter in Clark County has been opened at the Ashland High School, 311 J.E. Humphreys Street. The shelter can house up to 75 residents. A shelter also was opened in Jetmore at the 4-H Building on the Hodgeman County Fairgrounds.

The Kansas Division of Emergency Management says current information on road closures is available from the Kansas Department of Transportation by calling 5-1-1 or visiting


One Black Hawk helicopter is on scene and another is en route to Reno County in south central Kansas to help with fire...

Posted by Kansas National Guard on Monday, March 6, 2017