More than 659,000 acres in the state have burned so far during the course of multiple wildfires that have plagued Kansas since March 4, causing one death and destroying numerous homes and other buildings. Clark and Comanche Counties have been the hardest hit, with estimated 351,000 acres and 151,000 acres affected, respectively. Complete damage estimates may take several weeks.
In addition to property destruction, the fires have 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 Division of Emergency Management urges anyone wishing to contribute to ongoing disaster relief efforts to donate cash to disaster relief organizations rather than donating goods. KDEM 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. State agencies supporting the emergency response operations include the Kansas Division of Emergency Management; Kansas National Guard; Kansas Department of Agriculture; Kansas Department of Health and Environment; Kansas Department of Transportation; Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism; Kansas Forest Service; Kansas Highway Patrol; State Fire Marshal; and Department for Children and Families. The American Red Cross and Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters are also providing support to fire victims and first responders.
Currently, there are still active fires in Clark, Comanche, Ellis, Reno, and Rooks Counties. Regional coordinators and emergency operations support teams have been dispatched by the Kansas Division of Emergency Management to Clark, Comanche, Reno and Rooks Counties. Local fire departments and mutual aid are assisting with fire suppression across the state.
The Kansas National Guard has deployed four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with collapsible 660-gallon water buckets to Reno County assisting with fire suppression. Two Army Reserve Chinook helicopters from Gardner are in Clark County for fire suppression. Two Black Hawks were assigned to Clark County, but have been diverted to Comanche County to assist with fire suppression there.
Federal Fire Management Assistance Grants have been approved for fires in Clark, Comanche, Ford complex, Highland Area (Reno, Rice and McPherson); Ness, Rooks, and the Wilson Lake complex of Russell, Ellsworth and Lincoln. Additional requests may be made as the current emergencies continue.
FMAG grants are available to states, local and tribal governments, for the mitigation, management, and control of fires on publicly or privately owned forests or grasslands, which threaten such destruction as would constitute a major disaster. The program provides a 75 percent federal cost share.
The National Forestry Service deployed a support service incident management team from South Dakota to support the local incident management team in Reno County.
The Federal Air Administration closed the airspace to all nonemergency air traffic, including drones, in a 10-mile radius encompassing most of Hutchinson and the area north of the city. Airspace closures have also been instituted for areas in Clark, Comanche and Rooks Counties. The closures were established to allow Kansas National Guard Black Hawk helicopters to safely conduct water drop operations in support of ground firefighting efforts.
The Kansas Division of Emergency Management deployed their Communications on Wheels vehicles to Reno and Clark Counties to assist with communication with area residents. KDEM’s Geospatial Information System vehicle was sent to Reno County to provide mapping support for the local incident commander in Hutchinson. KDEM is also providing GIS support to Clark County.
Three shelters remain open: one in Ashland for first responders, one in Hutchinson, and one on stand-by in Coldwater.
There were multiple road closures and openings due to the fires. Current information is available from the Kansas Department of Transportation by calling 5-1-1 or visiting the Kandrive website at kandrive.org.
Live updates from the State Emergency Operations Center will be broadcast on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/kansasemergency) throughout the day.