Winds approaching hurricane force and dry conditions fueled dangerous fires yesterday with gusts of 70 miles per hour in western Kansas challenging firefighters. Wildfires continue to burn across several Kansas Counties Wednesday after a day of raging flames.
Across western Kansas, winds were gusting 55 to 65 miles an hour, and dust storm conditions were reported in Thomas and Logan counties in northwest Kansas. School districts in those counties did not run afternoon bus routes because of zero visibility is some areas with blowing dust. Numerous roads were closed because of dangerous visibility and wind conditions.
At Hays, a fire caused I-70 traffic to be rerouted to old U.S. 40 because of zero visibility, Kansas State Trooper Tod Hileman said on Twitter at around noon. It was opened back up in both directions at around 1 p.m.
Firefighters put out 21 fires between Monday and 9 p.m. Tuesday evening according to the Kansas Adjutant General’s Office. Emergency crews were in the final cleanup stages of 10 other fires, and 16 fires were still burning as of Wednesday morning.
A pair of Blackhawk helicopters with the Kansas Army National Guard dumped buckets of water on fires in Ellis County. The National Guard stated an estimated 25,000 acres have burned in Kansas in the last couple of days.
The National Guard stated an EMS/fire tower fell in Logan County, and strong winds knocked down a power pole in Sedgwick County. That pole crashed down onto three cars in Clearwater. No serious injuries have been reported from the fires.
Wichita’s Eisenhower National Airport had a gust of 58 miles an hour, while El Dorado reported 60 miles an hour. Wichita fire marshal Stuart Bevis said people should show extreme caution with any sources of fire, and there should be no outdoor burning or use of outdoor fireplaces or fire pits.
Gov. Jeff Colyer has declared a state of disaster emergency that includes Barber, Clark, Ellis, Greenwood, Harper, Kingman, Logan, Reno, Smith, and Stevens counties.
Weather conditions today are improving with increased relative humidity and decreasing wind. However, the State Emergency Operations Center in Topeka is warning Kansans that grass remains very dry and people should remain vigilant about preventing fires. Avoid any activity that could create a spark and touch off a new fire. Do not drive on or stop your car on dry or tall grass because your exhaust can spark a fire; do not throw cigarettes on the ground. Stay away from all affected areas and do not drive through heavy smoke. Sightseeing puts you in danger and hampers the work of firefighting crews.
As wildfires continue to crop up across the state Wednesday afternoon, two Kansas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which had been at work in Greenwood County, have been pulled back to Salina to prepare for a possible deployment to Hamilton County on the Colorado border.
Two additional Black Hawks are currently in Wabaunsee County to assist firefighting operations near I-70 and Vera Road.
The State Emergency Operations Center in Topeka remains staffed to assist local authorities, as needed, with their firefighting operations.