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Crews across Kan. fight to contain wildfires

Published: Apr. 17, 2018 at 9:42 PM CDT
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Multiple fires flared up in western and south central Kansas Wednesday, keeping crews busy for most of the afternoon.

The windy and dry conditions added to the trouble. Strong winds pushed fires in several directions. Crews had fights on their hands to minimize damage and keep people safe. Thanks to immediate responses from crews ready to respond on a moment's notice, none of the fires Wednesday got too far out of control.

Large smoke plumes showed up on radar from a Wednesday afternoon wildfire south of Lakin in Kearny County. In Butler County, crews battled two separate fires -- one a little north of El Dorado Lake, the other farther south and east near Leon.

In Butler County, crews called for backup as soon as they got the call to fight the fire near Leon.

"It's a lot easier to get help coming and not need them, than to need them and get a thirty minute delay in them showing up," Butler County Fire Chief John Mellies says.

In Butler County and the western Kansas counties impacted by wildfire, crews remained on scene to monitor for hotspots, making sure flames aren't rekindled.

Mellies says he's hoping for rain to green up the grass and, at least temporarily, put an end to the threat of wildfires.

Knowing how bad conditions would be this year, Mellies says crews did a lot of planning ahead of the season where wildfires are most likely to happen. That planning goes as far back as the beginning of last year when the discussion began about how crews would handle grass fires to keep them from becoming devastating.

You can follow updates below from the most recent efforts to contain Kansas wildfires.

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Wednesday updates

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4:50 p.m.:

We now know the scope of a large wildfire that destroyed property and forced evacuations in Morton and Stanton Counties. The adjutant general's office reports the fire that started Tuesday burned about 48,000 acres in Colorado and Kansas, about 14,000 of that in Kansas.

"The fire is largely extinguished, although some hot spots are still being watched," the adjutant general's office says.

This fire is known as "the Badger Hole Fire."

The preliminary damage estimates from the fire indicated five homes and several outbuildings were destroyed in Stanton and Morton counties.

The Kansas Division of Emergency Management continues to monitor several fires across the state, including a large wildfire burning south of Lakin in Kearny County. This fire is receiving aerial assistance from the Kansas Agricultural Aviation Association, the adjutant general's office says.

Crews have also managed to contain a large wildfire south of Lakin in Kearny County.

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4:30 p.m.:

Crews in Butler County have manged to contain or extinguish two large wildfires. The fire near Leon burned about 100 acres, officials say.

The second fire now under control burnt north of the Kansas Turnpike near El Dorado.

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3:40 p.m.:

The Elk County Sheriff's Office reports a wildfire at Killdeer and Road 13. As of 3:40 p.m., there were no reports of structures damaged. Crews managed to contain an earlier fire in Elk County at Evergreen and Road 17.

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3:30 p.m.

It's not just western Kansas dealing with wildfires. Crews are now responding to two fires in Butler County. One is in the southeast part of the county sat Southeast Cole Creek Road and Southeast 80th (north of Leon), the other at Northeast Bluestem Road and Northeast 85th Street (north of the Kansas Turnpike near El Dorado).

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3:15 p.m.

Another wildfire ignites in western Kansas, this time in Kearny County. Chief Meteorologist Ross Janssen pointed out a smoke plume on radar from the fire burning south of Lakin and continuing to move south.

Eyewitness News reporter Jennifer Herrera is headed to Lakin to gather information as crews fight to contain another large wildfire out west.

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1:30 p.m.

Firefighters are struggling to get wildfires in western Oklahoma under control, but a forecast for rain later in the week could provide some much-needed relief.

The National Weather Service said Wednesday that fire conditions remain critical in northwestern Oklahoma and the Panhandle, the eastern half of the Texas Panhandle and in southwestern Kansas.

The largest fire, located about 110 miles (180 kilometers) northwest of Oklahoma City, has burned about 409 square miles (1,059 sq. kilometers) and is 3 percent contained.

Just look at the devastation those fires can cause. This is a fire truck that burned in Oklahoma.

According to a post on Facebook, a yell for help came over the radio then moments before the truck was taken over by flames.

Minutes later, what felt like an eternity, two firefighters safely made their way out of the fire.

Firefighters are making more progress at another fire near Woodward, about 125 miles (201 kilometers) northwest of Oklahoma City. That blaze has burned about 106 square miles (275 sq. kilometers) and remains about 45 percent contained.

Two people have died in the Oklahoma fires, which began late last week.

Forecasters are predicting rain in western Oklahoma beginning Friday.

10:30 a.m.

Firefighters have contained the wildfire that originated in Colorado and crossed into Kansas late Tuesday evening.

Officials say multiple structures were impacted by the fire and damage assessment by local authorities will be done today in those counties.

Wallace County also reported a large fire that started last night and has been contained.

UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the Nebraska National Guard have been requested via the Emergency Management Assistance Compact and will arrive in Kansas on Wednesday and remain on standby to assist with aerial fire suppression, due to the expectation of a high fire danger on Wednesday.

A shelter that was established for residents displaced by the fire in Morton County is closed.

The State Emergency Operations Center will remain activated to monitor very high fire weather conditions anticipated across the state on Wednesday due to gusty northwest winds and low humidity.

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8:30 a.m.

The sheriff's offices in Morton and Stanton counties say firefighters have returned to their stations for rest before they go out to access damage later today.

According to the Stanton County Sheriff's Office Facebook page, homes were lost in the recent fires. They did not say how many.

Update 5 a.m. Wednesday

Fire crews have managed to contain a large wildfire out of southwest Kansas.

Early reports from the National Weather Service office in Dodge City say the fire spread across southwest Stanton and northwest Morton counties.

Voluntary evacuations for the town of Richfield have been lifted. If anyone happened to get displaced, a shelter has been set up at the Elkhart City Hall.

Morton County Emergency Management says as of about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the fire is contained and crews remain on scene to monitor conditions and clean-up.

Residents in Morton and Stanton counties are asked to turn off their sprinkles so that fire crews have access to water.

Eyewitness News is working to gather more information on the overall impact of the fire.

Morton, Stanton, Baca County fire.

Posted by Stevens County Emergency Services on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Reno County fire crews were also called out for at least three wildfires overnight.

Officials say all three are currently in clean-up mode. These are the following road closures:

Huntsville and Arlington Road
Lerado and Arlington Road
Langdon and Arlington Road
Langdon and Greenfield Road

The initial fire call was for a controlled burn that got out of control near Greenfield and Langdon. The fire was roughly one mile wide and two miles long. Early reports estimates about 640-acres burned.

Reno County Emergency Management is still trying to determine the scope of the other two fires.

No structures were damaged and no injuries were reported. Crews are asking people to be very cautious with burning, especially in such high wind conditions.

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Tuesday updates

Update 11:50 p.m. Tuesday:

We're learning more about the large wildfire that impacted an area spanning much of southwest Stanton and northwest Morton counties.

State emergency officials say this wildfire crossed into Kansas from Colorado and local firefighters were assisted by crews "from multiple Kansas and Colorado counties."

The firefight includes a request for assistance of Black Hawk helicopters from the Nebraska National Guard. The Black Hawks are expected to arrive by Wednesday afternoon, officials say.

Officials say about 90 homes in Stanton and Morton counties were evacuated Tuesday. This includes homes in the town of Richfield in Morton County.

"A shelter is established at Elkhart City Hall for residents displaced by the fire in Morton County.

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Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer Tuesday evening issued a verbal disaster declaration for several western Kansas counties battling wildfires.

“We want to do everything we can to help the local first responders get these fires under control as quickly as possible,” said Colyer. “This declaration will allow our state agencies to take whatever steps are necessary to assist when requested.”

The National Weather Service called for evacuations from properties in the path of a wildfire burning across southwest Stanton and northwest Morton counties.

With winds out of the northwest, the warning was for people living southeast of the fire. This included people living near the Morton County community of Richfield.

Farther north, US-40 is closed from Sharon Springs west to the Colorado state line due to a fire along the highway and low visibility.

Another heavily impacted area is near Weskan in Wallace County where crews have fought to contain the fire on its leading edge.

Wallace County Sheriff Larry Townsend says the fire spread to several structures and damaged or destroyed some expensive equipment, but, as of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, had not spread to any homes.

He says the structural damage from the fire includes "a lot of hay lofts."

Several crews responded to assist in the fight including firefighters from Wichita, Greeley, Logan and Wallace counties.

Townsend says flames spread to one fire truck and three firefighters were treated at an area hospital for injuries.

He says it's believed the fire started with an irrigation motor. Townsend says it appears likely the 75-mph winds blew some crop residue into that motor, causing a flame.