Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday urged Kansans to avoid traveling because active fires were burning in nine counties across central Kansas.
He also said all Kansans should avoid outdoor burning because 98 percent of the state faces a red flag warning from the National Weather Service.
“We saw yesterday fire, floods, hail, tornadoes, straight-line wind and dust. It was just a very, very difficult day across the state of Kansas,” Brownback said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Kansas National Guard Armory in Topeka.
Brownback said that about 400,000 acres have burned from wildfires and that one fatality from smoke inhalation had occurred in Clark County.
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“We’ve had a number of firefighters who have just really leaned in. … In some cases we had firefighters out in places who had to be removed because a tornado came in yesterday, but they have been out there risking their life and limb to put these fires out,” Brownback said. “Keep this situation in your prayers. It is difficult and it doesn’t look to end today.”
The Kansas National Guard is dousing the wildfires with water from Black Hawk helicopters in Reno County. In addition to Reno, firefighting crews continue to battle flames in Rooks, Ellis, Russell, Lincoln, Ellsworth, Hodgeman, Clark and Comanche counties, according to the Kansas Department of Emergency Management.
Angee Morgan, the state’s deputy director of emergency management, said Kansas has “never seen this many fires threatening our small communities, as well as some of our larger communities, all at once.”
Morgan said that central Kansas would remain under a high threat for fires through Wednesday evening.
Brownback said Kansans should avoid traveling until the situation is resolved and should refrain from doing any outdoor burning whatsoever, including barbecues.
The state has also secured approval for seven fire assistance management grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for the costs of combating the fires. The grants will help reimburse communities for the cost of combating the fires, but the total dollar amount won’t be determined until after the fires are put out.