Kansas sets wildfire record ‘it never hoped to see’

Crews continue to battle Kansas wildfires

As large wildfires in Hutchinson, Kan., continue to burn, fire crews work to get them under control. Some residents that have been evacuated are returning.
Up Next
As large wildfires in Hutchinson, Kan., continue to burn, fire crews work to get them under control. Some residents that have been evacuated are returning.

More than 500,000 acres of Clark and Comanche counties in southwest Kansas have burned in what is being called the largest single fire in the state’s recorded history.

On Wednesday, the Kansas Division of Emergency Management called the record “one it never hoped to see and never hopes to surpass.”

The total number of acres burned topped 650,000 around the state by Wednesday afternoon, and the figure continues to climb, officials said.

About 2,000 firefighters, some who have been working since Saturday, have fought fires in as many as 23 counties.

The wildfire was still burning in Clark and Comanche counties Wednesday, as well as in Ellis, Reno, Rice and Rooks counties. The Clark and Comanche wildfire surpassed the Anderson Creek fire, which burned 312,427 acres in Barber and Comanche counties last year.

At least 70 structures in Kansas have been damaged or destroyed, and thousands of cattle have been killed, authorities said.

The fire risk will ease the rest of the week but return Sunday when winds pick back up, forecasters said.

The Reno County sheriff said Wednesday that an additional home was destroyed — bringing the total to eight lost in that county — by a fire that has burned north of Hutchinson for several days.

Randy Henderson also said two firefighters were injured while battling the blaze, which has burned about 6,300 acres in Reno and Rice counties.

Officials reported that the fire was about 75 percent contained as of Wednesday afternoon. Some areas of the evacuated zone north of Hutchinson remained closed Wednesday. Henderson said residents who have damaged or destroyed homes were being contacted but were not let back into the zone as of Wednesday afternoon.

Jeff Deal, fire chief for the city of McPherson, praised the combined effort of those who have been battling fires across the state.

“I’ve been in this business for going on 24 years, and I have never seen such an amazing collective effort,” Deal said. “From fire, law enforcement, EMS, community — all the agencies that have come into play have been amazing.”

Henderson said a Red Cross shelter for evacuees at the Kansas State Fairgrounds was closed Wednesday — a Red Cross official said three people were checked into the shelter as of late Tuesday night — though an animal shelter at the fairgrounds would remain open.

Residents were allowed back into their homes Tuesday night in the Highlands area near the Crazy Horse Golf Club north of Hutchinson. Black Hawk helicopters supplied by the Kansas National Guard retrieved water from a golf course pond Wednesday as firefighters continued to contest hot spots east of the course. Four helicopters were being used.

The Federal Aviation Administration closed the airspace to all non-emergency traffic, including drones, around Hutchinson and in Clark, Comanche and Rooks counties.

“The fire’s not technically contained, because there are spots we can’t get into,” said Doug Hanen, Hutchinson’s interim fire chief. “It’s still staying in the perimeters that we’ve had, but we have multiple spots to work on, which we’ll continue to do. If the wind changes, though, the fire could take off.”