As more fires are brought under control, emergency management officials are getting a clearer picture of the widespread damage caused by the series of wildfires that began in the state over the weekend. Governor Sam Brownback declared a state of disaster emergency March 5 for this event.
The estimated total number of acres burned in the state is approximately 626,000 acres, although that figure may rise if new fires flare up. Clark and Comanche Counties account for approximately 502,000 of those acres, setting a record for the most widespread single fire in the state. The previous record was 312,427 acres burned in Barber and Comanche Counties during the Anderson Creek fire of 2016.
Fire crews continue to contain fires in Clark, Comanche, Reno, and Rooks Counties. Since March 4, fires have been reported in 23 Kansas counties.
Officials with the Kansas Division of Emergency Management caution Kansans that fire danger still exists in part of Kansas due to low humidity and a low dew point.
Airspace remains restricted in a 16-mile radius over Ashland in Clark County to allow Kansas National Guard, Army Reserve, and U.S. Forestry Service air crews to safely conduct water drop operations. Two Kansas National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with collapsible 660-gallon water buckets and one Army Reserve CH-47 Chinook, capable of dropping 2,000 gallons of water per run, conducted aerial fire suppression operations in Clark County Wednesday. Two fixed-wing aircraft from the U.S. Forestry Service also flew water drop missions in the county. Two additional Army Reserve Chinook helicopters arrived at Dodge City last night and will begin operations this morning.
The Kansas Highway Patrol is providing aerial reconnaissance support to survey burned areas.
The fires killed an unknown number of livestock in several counties. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment Bureau of Waste Management is providing guidance to livestock owners for the disposal of dead animals. For information, go to the KDHE website (kdheks.gov/waste/p_techguides.html) or call Ken Powell (785) 296-1121.
The Kansas Livestock Association is working with private donors to provide hay for cattle in counties that suffered extensive loss of grazing lands and baled hay.
KDEM advises anyone wishing to contribute to ongoing disaster relief efforts to donate cash to disaster relief organizations rather than donating goods. Officials recommends Kansans donating to reputable disaster relief organizations of their choice or local organizations within the affected communities.
The State Emergency Operations Center in Topeka will remain staffed 24/7 until further notice. Live updates from the State Emergency Operations Center will be broadcast on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/kansasemergency) throughout the day.