In February we posted some statistics showing that historically there is a large spike in wildfire activity in March and April in Kansas. The spring is also a time when many, many ranchers conduct prescribed fires in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma. This year between February 27 and May 5, 2.7 million acres were treated with prescribed fire.
Referring to the bar graph below, and throwing out the two busiest and the two slowest data points, in a typical year land managers in the Flint Hills burn between 1.1 million and 2.8 million acres.
We thank Eric Ward of the Kansas Forest Service for providing these graphics compiled by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment..
OFS’s Area Command Team is managing statewide wildfires out of Oklahoma City.
Pictured from left to right: George Geissler, Director/Agency Administrator; Andy James, Fire Suppression & Operations; Tim Elder, Aviation Coordinator; Steve Creech, Fire Behavior Analyst; Mark Goeller, Area Commander; Ryan Baldrachi, GIS Specialist; Suzanne McCombs, Public Information Officer; Drew Daily, Fire Suppression & Operations; Melissa Yunas, Lead Public Information Officer.
Above: The 350 Complex of fires. Photo by Roy Anderson of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
What began as four separate fires merged into one large wildfire, named the 350 Complex, Wednesday afternoon in Woodward County in northwest Oklahoma.
An Oklahoma Forestry Services Incident Management Team is working in unified command with the Woodward Fire Department to battle the 57,440-acre blaze, utilizing firefighting task forces, heavy equipment and large air tankers to suppress the fire. Strong winds are causing rapid growth of the fire. Approximately 115 personnel are assigned, with more resources on order.
The 350 Complex Fires were started by power lines that whipped around and arced, caused by sustained 30 mph winds that gusted to over 50 mph. The fire is 0% contained as of Thursday morning. An unknown number of structures were lost, but no injuries or deaths have been reported at this time.
Warm temperatures, low relative humidity, and strong winds contributed to the start of additional fires Wednesday afternoon. Oklahoma Forestry Services is in unified command with the Guthrie Fire Department in responding to the Meridian Fire north of Luther in Logan County, which has burned about 500 acres and is 80% contained as of Thursday morning.
“With the fires we are experiencing and Red Flag Warnings in effect for most of the state, we have to remind the public again that doing anything to cause a spark is extremely dangerous today and over the next few days,” said Geissler. “Any fires that start in these conditions will have the potential to spread very quickly and present erratic fire behavior.”
Generally across the state, numerous new fires started Wednesday during Red Flag Warning conditions that were again present in the majority of Oklahoma. In addition, suppression activities continued on several on-going fires. Competition for suppression resources Wednesday was again high. Many of the wildfires were resistant to control due to the extreme fire behavior resulting from dry fuels, strong winds, and low relative humidity.
Oklahoma Forestry Services has established a statewide area command in Oklahoma City to prioritize the allocation of state and federal resources. State and Federal aircraft remain prepositioned across the state to support on-going and emerging incidents. Additional wildland fire suppression resources have been ordered from the Southern Forest Fire Compact to assist with on-going and new initial attack incidents
In case you missed it in Tuesday’s article about the wildfires in northwest Oklahoma, a road grader operator had a VERY, VERY close call trying to put in a control line around a fire. Here’s what we wrote yesterday:
I just watched a replay on NEWS9.com of a road grader that had been putting in fire line get stuck as it tried to go up a slope to get on a road. The operator spent several seconds trying to get the machinery unstuck as the fire bore down. The flames were actually impinging on the grader as the operator jumped out the door and ran over to a reporter’s vehicle and got inside. By then the flames were pouring over the hood of that vehicle as the reporter quickly backed away, as if he was driving away from a tornado, he said. Apparently the grader operator was not injured.
Above: The National Weather Service issued this map at 1:45 p.m. today, saying: “Wildfire north of Woodward. People in outlined area should evacuate per county emergency management.”
(UPDATE at 4:37 p.m. MDT, April 5, 2016)
Very strong winds are leading to extreme fire behavior in northwest Oklahoma.
I just watched a replay on NEWS9.com of a road grader that had been putting in fire line get stuck as it tried to go up a slope to get on a road. The operator spent several seconds trying to get the machinery unstuck as the fire bore down. The flames were actually impinging on the grader as the operator jumped out the door and ran over to a reporter’s vehicle and got inside. By then the flames were pouring over the hood of that vehicle as the reporter quickly backed away. Apparently the grader operator was not injured.
Here is the description from NASA of the images below of the Anderson Creek Fire that burned almost 400,000 acres in Oklahoma and Kansas last month:
“In late March 2016, wildfire raged across rural areas of Kansas and Oklahoma. Local authorities and media outlets are calling it the largest grass fire in Kansas history. The Anderson Creek fire started in northern Oklahoma on March 22 and proceeded to burn more than 620 square miles (1600 square kilometers) of prairie and cattle grazing land. No human deaths have been reported, though 600 cattle were killed by the fires. At least 16 homes and 25 structures were lost, as were countless miles of fencing.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired these two natural-color images of the fire. The first shows the extensive smoke plumes as winds whipped the fires on March 23, 2016. The second image shows the scarred land as it appeared on March 27. Turn on the image comparison tool to see the change.
The wildfire spread quickly due to dry conditions in the region; rainfall has been below normal this spring. By March 31, the fire was close to 90 percent contained, thanks to work by fire crews, the National Guard, and a few inches of snow. Click here to view drone footage of the fire at its peak.”