‘Catastrophic fire conditions’ possible today as Kansas blazes continue

Fires raced through grasslands in Kansas this week, drawing the National Guard, which captured this photo.

A series of wildfires have burned thousands of acres of grasslands in Kansas this week, and while relief might be in sight, there’s still a full day of volatile conditions ahead, officials say.

“Friday will be a very dangerous day for fire weather in many areas of the state. Some areas will see catastrophic fire weather conditions,” the Kansas Division of Emergency Management said.

Most of the state is under red flag or high wind warnings with forecast to gusts up to 40 mph in some areas Friday. Temperatures around 70 degrees are expected to drop into the 50s this weekend, with rain in the forecast, according to the National Weather Service.

Fires erupted Wednesday. Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer made an emergency declaration for three of the fires burning in Rice County and deployed Black Hawk helicopters from the Kansas National Guard to assist in the response.

According to The Wichita Eagle, state officials tracked 45 fires across the state on Thursday alone, with several breaking out in the Kansas City area. The fires burned an estimated 13,000 acres, and many remained active or out of control.

More detailed assessments of acreage or causes were not immediately available.

About 20 percent of the state is classified as being under an “extreme drought,” according to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Wind-driven wildfires race through Kansas Wednesday

Photo: Hutchinson Kansas Fire Department

A series of wildfires raced through grasslands in rural Kansas Wednesday, scorching swaths of land and drawing local firefighters and the Kansas National Guard.

The fires began midday Wednesday, primarily in Rice County in central Kansas. Fanned by gusty winds, the fire quickly became visible on radar imagery and the GOES-16 Satellite, as shown in these images from the National Weather Service’s Wichita bureau.

“Wind is the huge factor in the tall grass,” Rice County Emergency Management Director Greg Kline told reporters at the scene of one of the fires. “Access to some of these locations is very tough at times.”

Details about the estimated number of acres burned were not immediately available. But Kline said the three separate fires in Rice County were estimated to be about 2 miles wide and about 4 miles long at their farthest points.

Video of the news conference was posted by The Hutchinson News. 

Neighboring counties were assisting local crews, and firefighters were expected to be in the area through the night.

A crop-duster was also being used to help.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer on Wednesday morning made an emergency declaration for three of the fires burning in Rice County and deployed Black Hawk helicopters from the Kansas National Guard to assist in the response.

Much of the state has been under red flag warnings in recent days.

Plus, the entire state is currently classified as “abnormally dry” with a large pocket of southern Kansas categorized as being in an “extreme drought,”

Drought monitor
Drought monitor, March 1, 2018. National Drought Mitigation Center.

Very high and extreme fire danger is anticipated for Thursday and Friday, with forecasted temperatures in the 70s and wind gusts up to 30 mph. Cooler temperatures and rain could be on the way for the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

Still a huge wild fire in Rice County as of 308PM. Several fire crews are battling it. The smoke plume extends through McPherson, Dickinson and Saline Counties.

Posted by WIBW Jeremy Goodwin on Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Strong winds recorded in CO, NE, KS, and OK

Above: Map showing maximum wind gusts in Nebraska at 1:25 p.m. MST March 5, 2018.

(Originally published at 1:32 p.m. MST March 5, 2018)

As predicted in the Red Flag Warnings Monday morning, strong winds are are occurring in Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

These maps of the four states show maximum wind gusts updated at 1:25 p.m. MST March 5, 2018.

Kansas

Kansas strong wind
Matt told us about a fire in Clark County, Kansas. The GOES 16 satellite detected it.

fire clark county kansas
The map below shows a fire detected by a satellite in Clark County Kansas at 1:15 p.m. CST March 5. It is south of Dodge City and west of Ashland.

UPDATE at 1:54 p.m. MST March 5, 2018: the satellite is detecting another fire in Kansas, farther west, near Hugoton.

UPDATE at 3:19 p.m. MST March 5, 2018. The fire in Clark County is reportedly contained. That fire and the one farther west are no longer being detected by the satellite.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma wind

Colorado

Colorado strong wind

After action report completed for last year’s wildfires near Hutchinson, Kansas

Above: Wildfires detected by a satellite March 7, 2017 in the Hutchinson, KS and Enid, OK area. NASA.

Reno County in Kansas has completed an after action report (AAR) regarding the wildfires that occurred in March, 2017. One of the largest blazes was north of Hutchinson, which is about 40 air miles northwest of Wichita. While those fires were active, hundreds of thousands of acres were also burning around the Texas/Oklahoma panhandle/Kansas border area.

Before we get into the AAR, one thing to keep in mind about Kansas, which we covered April 2, 2017, is that according to the Wichita Eagle:

The state’s forest service is the smallest and lowest funded of any in the country – which puts people and property in danger. Consider the difference in resources and responses between Kansas and Oklahoma:
–The Kansas Forest Service budget in 2016 was about $3 million, with $1 million dedicated to fire service; Oklahoma’s budget was $15 million, with $8 million for fire service.
–The Kansas Forest Service has three trucks and four employees dedicated to firefighting and fire prevention; Oklahoma has 47 fire engines, 47 bulldozers and 84 firefighters.

The AAR was compiled by Deputy Fire Chief Doug Hanen, with the assistance of Emergency Management Director Adam Weishaar and Sheriff Randy Henderson. The 30-page report concluded that generally the work performed on the fires by numerous agencies was positive and commendable, but there was room for improvement.

Here are some of the highlights of the review:

  • There is a need for smaller fire apparatus that can get into areas not accessible by 6-by-6 military surplus engines.
  • A Polaris side-by-side UTV  holding 75 gallons was very useful for mop up, especially in wet areas. They hope to obtain at least one more.
  • On days with a Red Flag Warning, they will now immediately dispatch at least three brush engines.
  • In order to help manage the span of control, the Hutchinson Fire Department will organize resources into Task Forces comprised of three brush engines, one water tender, and a Task Force Leader.
  • The firefighters in Reno County for the last two years have increasingly used backfire and burnout tactics, and more engines are carrying drip torches.
  • The Hutchinson Fire Department became the first fully-paid department in Kansas to have all of their firefighters red carded. This will enable them to send resources out of the state, for example, to Colorado or California.
  • The Kansas State Incident Management Team provided assistance for a day, but they “seemed overwhelmed by a moving event,” were “inexperienced…in essential positions”, and lacked accountability. At the end of the day the Team left. The state has since reorganized the program, placing teams under the Kansas Department of Emergency Management enabling them to respond nationwide instead of just in Kansas.
  • Toward the end of the fire siege a Type 2 Incident Management Team was called in. The difference between that team and the previous State Team was “night and day”. Local officials learned a lot from the Type 2 Team, especially how to re-populate areas following an evacuation and in dealing with victims following an incident.
  • There are opportunities for better and more timely communication and coordination with the public and the media.
  • The report suggests better guidelines for managing length of first responders’ shifts on wildfires and their rehabilitation in order to reduce exhaustion.

New documentary chronicles March wildfires across Midwest ranchland

A new documentary published online last week chronicles the terror and heartbreak ranchers faced in areas of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas when wind-swept fires tore through their communities in March.

Titled “Fire in the Heartland,” the 16-minute film includes interviews with fire personnel and ranchers about the firestorm that ripped through the prairie lands. The video is the latest enterprise work to come out of the disaster — this New York Times piece also detailed some of the tragedy.

And here’s an excerpt about the fire from Climate.gov.

The wildfires tore through cattle country, feasting on grasses made dry by long-term drought and exacerbated by recent warm weather.  Once the fires were started, strong winds whipped the flames, helping them spread more rapidly. According to Reuters, a wildfire in Texas during the beginning of March moved at speeds up to 70mph as it raced across the Texas Panhandle. By the third week of March, the fires had killed at least seven people—not to mention thousands of livestock—and burned more than 2 million acres.

Smoke map, April 13, 2017

Residents in the Northern and Central Plains have been experiencing vegetation fire smoke today. Much of it has come from agricultural or prescribed burning in Missouri and the Flint Hills of Kansas. The map above, an experimental product from NOAA’s Earth Central Research Laboratory, shows the estimate of where the smoke would be at 8 p.m. MDT on April 13.

The map below shows the locations of fires, wild or prescribed, and AirNow’s estimate of a smoke plume.

air now smoke fires map