Kansas Forest Service, K-State Research and Extension agents help lead fire response across the state
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Wind-whipped fires sped across large swaths of southern and western Kansas on Tuesday, killing an as-yet unknown number of livestock and wildlife, forcing the closure of numerous roads and highways, and evacuations in at least 10 communities.
An Oklahoma truck driver died Monday night in Clark County because of smoke inhalation, and red-flag warnings for high winds are expected to remain in effect through Thursday for much of the state.
As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 660,000 acres had burned in 21 counties and fires were still burning in Clark, Comanche, Ellis, Reno and Rooks counties.
Gov. Sam Brownback declared a state of disaster emergency to expedite emergency response assistance to affected counties, and the Kansas Division of Emergency Management coordinated state response operations from a round-the-clock operations center in Topeka.
A broad network of K-State Research and Extension professionals involved in land management, forestry and agriculture are helping Kansans in several ways.
All Kansas Forest Service fire staff members, as well as temporary fire personnel, are fully engaged in the multiple fires around the state, according to Jennifer Williams, communications coordinator for the Kansas Forest Service, which is assisting with incident management teams in Clark, Ford and Reno county areas as well as coordinating incoming aircraft and strike teams.
Williams said key fire-control personnel are dispersed across the areas of need: Fire Planning Specialist Eric Ward is in Dodge City; Fire Training Specialist Rodney Redinger is in Hutchinson; Fire Program Coordinator Ross Hauck is in Ashland; and Fire Protection Specialist Jason Hartman is assisting at the State Emergency Operations Center in Topeka.
State Forester Larry Biles traveled to Hutchinson on Tuesday to welcome the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Blue Team, which was called into Kansas to assist with firefighting efforts. That crew is a type 2 interagency Incident Management Team that comes together to manage all-hazard emergency incidents. The team comprises fire and emergency professionals from state, local and federal land management agencies and emergency agencies.
The Kansas All Hazards Incident Management Team is assisting on the Starbuck Fire in Clark and Comanche counties.
Brice Gibson, agriculture and natural resources agent for K-State Research and Extension’s Clark County office in Ashland, said the fires burned grass and vegetation so badly, the county is at risk of another major loss.
“In many cases, the fire burned out the roots of the vegetation, leaving nothing to spring up in its place,” he said. “Topsoil needs vegetation to anchor it down. If we don’t get some rain soon, we risk losing a lot of topsoil to wind erosion.”
Gibson said local businesses are pulling together — Ashland Feed & Seed is gathering donations of hay and animal feed, and the Don Spotts Lumber Company is helping out with fencing supplies and other building materials.
Another fire, which started west of Stockton on Monday, damaged several structures including at least one home which was a total loss, said Rachael Boyle, agriculture agent in the Phillips-Rooks District. That fire had burned about 5,000 acres as of Wednesday afternoon, and fire crews were still finding hot spots.
Boyle, who is based in Stockton in north-central Kansas, said on at least one farm, the wind may have played a role where the fire skipped from one hay bale to another. The bales burned but the ground between them did not. She had not heard reports of damage to cropland.
Extension agents often bring together people who have resources with those seeking resources and this week was no exception. Boyle has posted information from the Rooks County Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association on social media, including the Phillips-Rooks District Facebook page and on its website and plans to continue watching for resources to share with Kansans in Phillips and Rooks counties.
She encouraged anyone who is looking for resources to contact an extension office and agents will work to connect them with the help they need.
For National Weather Service fire weather information, visit: http://www.weather.gov/top/webnews-firewx
K-State Research and Extension