UPDATE: Grassfire In Clark And Comanche Counties Largest In Kansas Recorded History

Mar 7, 2017

Editor's note: This post was updated on Wednesday at 7:22 p.m.

More than 650,000 acres have burned during the course of multiple wildfires that have moved across Kansas since Saturday.

Clark County, in the southwest part of the state, has been the hardest hit with more than 55 percent of the county burned. Neighboring Comanche County has lost nearly 30 percent of its acreage to the flames. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management (KDEM) says the grassfire raging between the two counties has burned more than 500,000 acres. That surpasses the damage done during last year's Anderson Creek Fire, which burned more than 300,000 acres in Barber and Comanche counties.

There are additional active fires in Rooks and Ellis counties. A blaze in Reno and Rice counties is reported to have burned 6300 acres.

Officials in Reno County said the Highland Fire is about 85 percent contained as of Wednesday evening. Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson said crews are working to prevent the fire from spreading to the north while at the same time trying to shrink the evacuation zone. He said eight homes and one vehicle were destroyed by flames.

Henderson mentioned the threat posed by smoldering cottonwood trees in the area that have been hollowed out by the fire.

"The concerns are, with the winds changing and the winds picking up, those cotton wood trees will explode and embers will ignite some fresh grass," Henderson said.

In addition to the trees, Henderson said live electrical wires from downed power lines will need to be addressed before people can return to evaluate damage to their homes or to look for missing livestock.

Officials say complete damage estimates may take several weeks.

Katie Horner, with KDEM in Topeka, said Wednesday morning that the national weather service had, once again, issued a red flag warning for much of the state.

"This time, that includes the eastern side of the state," Horner says. "So folks in Johnson County, Leavenworth, Franklin, Miami, even in Topeka – Shawnee County, be alert as we have a high fire danger here as well."

A fire evacuation order was partially lifted Tuesday night, allowing residents of the Highlands neighborhood in Hutchinson to return to their homes.

Reno County officials say the grass fire north of the city destroyed eight homes and one vehicle. No one was hurt or killed.

National Guard helicopters and aerial water tankers helped the firefighting efforts by dropping water in places that firefighters couldn’t reach.

Other areas remain closed due to hot spots and downed power lines.

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

More than 230 responders from 116 agencies have been working on the fire.

The shelter at the Kansas State Fairgrounds remains open. There is also a pet shelter with space for horses.

Reno County officials opened the Highlands neighborhood and an area from south of 82nd street and west of Plum.

The KDEM is urging anyone who wishes to contribute to ongoing relief efforts to donate cash to reputable disaster relief organizations, rather than donating goods.

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Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.

 

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