Very strong winds spread fires in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas

400,000 acres burned in Kansas wildfires Wednesday

Updated 4:35 p.m. Dec. 16, 2021 CST

wildfires near Russell, Kansas map
The red dots represent heat detected by satellites on wildfires near Russell, Kansas, as late as 3:06 a.m. CST Dec. 16, 2021. Clouds and dust at times blocked the view from the satellites and/or the light vegetation burned and cooled between satellite overflights. Therefore, the burned area is likely much larger than shown by the red dots.

A large wildfire in Russell and Ellis Counties in Kansas has burned approximately 96,000 acres and destroyed at least 10 homes, according to the Russell County Sheriff. Satellites were still detecting heat on the fire at 3:06 a.m. CST Thursday. The fire is north of Interstate 70, and is northwest, north, and northeast of Russell, about 7 miles from the city. (UPDATE at 1 a.m. CST Dec. 17: The Kansas Forest Service said the “Four County Fire” has burned 365,850 acres.)

The fire was pushed by very strong winds on Wednesday. A weather station at the Russell Airport recorded wind gusts of 100 mph, which is 26 mph higher than the minimum speed for a Category 1 hurricane.

Many other fires were occurring at the same time in Western Kansas and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas (see below).

The Kansas Forest Service assessed the situation Thursday morning:

Wednesday pretty much stripped western Kansas of fire resources, between multiple major fires in critical fire weather, and many traffic crashes. Initial assessment indicates that 11 fires burned a cumulative acreage of nearly 400,000 acres. Further damage details are being assessed by local agencies at this time. Multiple resources will committed, likely for several days.

Dust picked up by the winds created visibility problems, requiring some highways to be closed Wednesday.

Satellite photo, fires in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas map
Satellite photo, fires in Oklahoma, and Texas, Dec. 15, 2021. The red areas indicate fires.

Eric Metzger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Wichita, told the New York Times that before Wednesday, Kansas had not had any rain for over a month. The state has seen fires in December, when the weather gets dry, he added, but this one felt different.

“I’ve lived out here for more than 20 years,” he added. “This is historic for us.”

Satellite photo map, fires in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas
Satellite photo, fires in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, 3:51 p.m. CST Dec. 15, 2021. The red dots represent heat detected on fires by satellites.

Update on two fires in the Texas panhandle mentioned earlier, with information from the Texas Forest Service Thursday afternoon: The North 207 Fire between Pampa and Borger is listed at 23,810 acres. The Parker Creek Fire southwest of Dumas is estimated at 11,066 acres.

Thursday morning the Oklahoma Forest Service said the Cobb Fire in the panhandle had burned about 10,000 acres.


Originally published at 8:57 p.m. Dec. 15, 2021 CST

Map of fires in the panhandles of TX and OK
Map of fires in the panhandles of TX and OK. December 15, 2021.

Very strong winds in Kansas and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma caused wildfires to spread very rapidly Wednesday. Blowing dust also caused severe visibility problems, and prompted the street lights to come on at noon in at least one area.

Oklahoma

Due to the Cobb Fire in the Oklahoma panhandle the Guymon Police Department in a 2 p.m. Facebook post on Wednesday encouraged the residents on the northwest side of town to evacuate. Heat data from satellites at 1:55 p.m. CST indicated it had burned approximately 5,000 acres northwest of Guymon. The Oklahoma Forest Service said at 7 p.m. it had grown to about 10,000 acres. The eastward progression toward Guymon had been stopped, they said, and one structure was destroyed. Wind gusts up to 79 mph were recorded in the area.

Cobb Fire. OFS photo. Oklahoma.
Cobb Fire. Oklahoma Forest Service photo. December 15, 2021.

Texas

Fires in the Texas panhandle were spreading to the east-northeast on Wednesday, also pushed by very strong winds gusting over 80 mph.

The North 207 Fire in Carson County has burned an estimated 15,000 acres about 5 miles southeast of Borger. The Texas Forest Service said it has crossed Highway 152.

North 207 Fire. Texas
North 207 Fire. Texas Forest Service photo. December 15, 2021.

The Parker Creek Fire started in Oldam County and spread into Hartley County southeast of Channing, about 14 miles south of Dumas. The TFS said at 6:08 p.m. it had burned 3,500 acres but satellite heat data indicates it could be larger.

Parker Creek Fire
Parker Creek Fire, December 15, 2021. Texas Forest Service photo.

Kansas

There are also numerous fires in western Kansas, also pushed by strong winds out of the west measured in at least one location at 100 mph. The New York Times reported that two fires merged in Russell and Ellsworth Counties in the central part of the state to form a massive blaze about 40 miles long, according to Eric Metzger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

8 thoughts on “Very strong winds spread fires in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas”

  1. From the KFS evening report
    “Extreme fire weather Wednesday resulted in a significant fire outbreak. Multiple fires, across multiple counties, with some reports of structures lost. Details are still being assembled.Additionally, tornadoes, severe winds, dust storms, etc., created havoc nearly statewide.”

    “Wednesday pretty much stripped western Kansas of fire resources, between multiple major fires in critical fire weather, and many traffic crashes.”

      1. https://www.kansasforests.org/fire_management/incident_intel_and_support/current_fire_kansas.html
        “Wednesday pretty much stripped western Kansas of fire resources, between multiple major fires in critical fire weather, and many traffic crashes. Initial assessment indicates that 11 fires burned a cumulative acreage of nearly 400,000 acres. Further damage details are being assessed by local agencies at this time. Multiple resources will committed, likely for several days.”

        It changes daily so will have to see it today.

  2. That last photo is evidence of how strong the winds were blowing. I’ve never seen a smoke column lay down like that. Incredible.
    Prayers for the folks that are underneath a plume like that and see it coming at them. Scary.

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