Wildfires scorch over 25,000 acres in Kansas

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Fire near Hays | Courtesy Mark Thiel Fire near Hays | Courtesy Mark Thiel

Kansas officials say dozens of fires fueled by dry conditions and strong winds have scorched more than 25,000 acres of land.

The Kansas Adjutant General's Office said fires began around 10 a.m. Tuesday, dying down with the winds around 6 p.m. Twenty-one fires were extinguished over the course of two days, 10 were in final cleanup and 16 were contained.

Many highways in Northwest Kansas were closed for a short time this afternoon due to blowing dirt. All highways are open at this time.

Two Kansas Army National Guard Black Hawks with collapsible water buckets were deployed to Ellis County to support local firefighting operations.

An EMS/fire tower tumbled in Logan County. A Communications on Wheels unit was deployed to Oakley, but the county was able to contact a private sector partner and a repeater was installed on the water tower. 

Country star Reba McEntire was flying through Kansas and posted on Instagram about the wind when she stopped in Liberal.

A post shared by Reba (@reba) on

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First responders were tackling at least a dozen wildfires across Kansas on Tuesday because of dry conditions and strong winds.

The Kansas Division of Emergency Management said firefighters responded to at least 12 fires after helping to extinguish nearly 20 other fires. 

"They are doing this in extreme wind conditions with sustained 45 mph winds and gusts up to 70 mph," the agency said on Facebook. "Do your part! Don't let a fire start!"

One of the fires was near Haven in Reno County. A dispatcher said it started at around 10:15 a.m. because of downed power lines. It took crews nearly three hours to put out the fire, which burned about 40 acres of land.

Crews said the timber and winds posed the biggest challenges for dozens of firefighters trying to battle that fire.

Reno County signed a local disaster declaration for the handful of wildfires they had to work throughout the county. Crews from Reno and Harvey counties assisted in those efforts.

Near Hays, a fire near the Sternberg Museum shut down a portion of Interstate 70. The Kansas National Guard sent two Black Hawk helicopters to the Hays area to help the firefighting efforts. 

Trooper Tod Hileman said fire departments were set up north of Catharine to try to keep the fire from reaching the town. Troopers were going from farm to farm evacuating residents.

Rollover crashes in Kansas believed to be caused by wind

A pasture was also burning near 39th Street South and 231st Street West in Sedgwick County. That's southwest of Goddard. Suzanne Basore said she smelled smoke and looked out a window to see her yard on fire.

"It's really scary," she said. "I was on the porch and I did not know how close it was to the north of the house. But luckily the fire trucks showed up and got it under control. We turned on our water system to help some."

The fire was brought under control, but some areas were still smoking into late afternoon. Fire crews planned to monitor the area.

Another grass fire burned along 180th Road north of Harper.

"Fire is going to move extremely fast," said Rodney Redinger, fire training specialist with the Kansas Forest Service. "To people that are out working outside today, just use caution. Telling people that if you have to be outside welding or grinding, or anything that may cause a spark, have some water with you."

No injuries have been reported.

Fire officials classified the grassland fire danger in central, south-central and southeast Kansas as extreme to catastrophic. The only areas where red flag fire warnings haven't been issued are in northeast and far north-central.

PHOTOS: Kansas wildfires - March 2017

KDOT reported the following highway closures due to reduced visibility from blowing dust.

  • K-25 from Colby to U.S. 40 in Logan County, has reopened
  • I-70 from Goodland to Colby, has reopened
  • U.S. 36 from Atwood to Oberlin 
  • U.S. 24 from Levant to Colby 

A Dust Storm Warning was in effect for parts of northwest Kansas. Oakley USD 274 announced it would not run bus routes Tuesday due to the dust storm. The district told parents they could pick up their children any time.

Wichita Public Schools also announced that First Student buses would not use elevated roadways during Tuesday afternoon’s bus routes. 

In southwest Kansas on Monday, a wildfire in Clark County burned at least 1,600 acres, and 10,000 hay bales burned Sunday in Stevens County.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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