The wildfires that grew to blacken hundreds of thousands of acres continue to grow larger in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma on Tuesday.
In the map below the red dots represent wildfire heat detected by a satellite at 12:57 p.m. CST March 7, 2017. The white line was the very rough, approximate perimeter we developed from heat detected by satellites on Monday. The fires are still growing on Tuesday, spreading toward the southeast, pushed by strong west and northwest winds gusting at 20 to 40 mph. The relative humidity in the western two-thirds of Kansas has fallen Wednesday to the single digits.
The towns of Protection and Coldwater in Kansas are threatened.
Above: The red and yellow dots represent heat detected by a satellite in the 24 hours before 11:30 a.m. CST March 7, 2017.
Published at 11:29 a.m. MST March 7, 2017
On Monday a cold front brought very strong winds to the plains of Kansas and the northern portions of Texas and Oklahoma. Gusting in some areas at over 50 mph and accompanied by low relative humidities, any wildfires that were ignited spread very rapidly, and often exceeded the capabilities of firefighters.
The largest fire started east of Beaver, Oklahoma and ran to the northeast into Oklahoma. Ashland, 40 miles away, had to be evacuated. It is not 100 percent clear if the fire in Ashland was the same fire that started in Oklahoma, but it likely was.
After the cold front passed, the southwest wind shifted 90 degrees to come out of the northwest, which converted the right flank of the fire into the head as it turned and ran to the southeast.
The fire burned in the following counties: in Oklahoma, Beaver and Harper; in Kansas, Meade, Comanche, Clark, and possibly Ford. As of 3:16 a.m. CST satellite data, the fire was still very active in some areas.
The map below shows heat detected by a satellite in the 24 hours before 11:30 a.m. CST March 7, 2017. We drew a red-tinted polygon around the heat icons for the fire east of Beaver. The satellite only collects data twice a day at roughly 12-hour intervals. As the fire spreads rapidly through mostly grass with the strong wind, it can cool and not be detected by the next satellite overflight. We don’t know if everything within our red polygon was all one fire, and even if it is there likely are many areas, some large, that did not burn. So with all those disclaimers, the red polygon includes about 600,000 acres.
The red polygon we drew around the wildfire east of Laverne, OK encompases about 30,000 acres, but the same disclaimers about the fire east of Beaver also apply here.
Above: Large wildfires (red) in Kansas as detected by a satellite at about 1 p.m. MST March 6, 2017.
(UPDATED at 5:43 p.m. MST March 6, 2017)
Below is an updated map showing growth of some of the fires in Kansas, especially the one 17 miles southeast of Meade, Kansas that burned from Oklahoma into the state. That one, using very rough satellite data, appears to be more than 130,000 acres.
There was a report, as yet unconfirmed, that in Kansas a tornado moved over a going fire.
(Originally published at 4:17 p.m. MST March 6, 2017)
Strong winds along with relative humidities in the teens and twenties are causing problems for firefighters in the western half of Kansas. The passage of a cold front is bringing sustained wind speeds of 30 to 40 mph with maximum gusts in the 40’s and 50’s.
On the map above we identified and very roughly mapped four of the largest fires. The acreages shown are estimates based on satellite detections of heat at about 1 p.m. MST on Monday. One of them has burned from Oklahoma into Kansas.
53,000 acres; 17 miles southeast of Meade, Kansas. It is in Meade and Beaver Counties in Kansas, and Clark County in Oklahoma.
6,500 acres; in Clark County 23 miles east of Meade, Kansas.
7,000 acres; in Lane County Kansas 10 miles southeast of Dighton, Kansas.
4,000 acres; in Rooks County Kansas just southwest of Stockton, Kansas. Residents in part of the city have been ordered to evacuate.
A fire in Logan County in the northeast corner of Colorado has burned 6,000 acres 20 miles northeast of Sterling.
Before the cold front passed the fires were driven by a southwest wind (see the animated radar map below). As the front passes the wind is shifting 90 degrees to come out of the northwest. This could be a very, VERY dangerous situation for firefighters on the south side of the fires, as the right flank turns into the head of the fire.
Smoke from a controlled burn on February 18 caused two accidents on Highway 56 in Kansas two miles east of the Osage-Lyon county line. The series of accidents began when a truck was hit from behind when it slowed as it entered the smoke and the vehicle in front of it also slowed down.
The second accident happened when other vehicles stopped in the smoke to help those in the first accident. One driver was parked partially in the roadway when she was hit by another vehicle which then kept moving and hit two pedestrians who were helping one of the drivers in the first accident. After injuring the pedestrians the vehicle then hit another car.
The Osage County Sheriff’s Office that provided the above information reported that three people were transported to hospitals and five vehicles were damaged.
Dan Romine, Chief of Osage County Fire District #2, said the smoke across the highway was a lot worse than shown in the photo above when his fire department first arrived on scene.
The former chief of the Kickapoo Tribal Volunteer Fire Department in Kansas was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of setting fires the tribe was paid to fight, Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said. Also indicted was a former volunteer firefighter.
Stephen D. Ramirez, 26, of Horton, Kansas, former chief, and Arlene M. Negonsott, 34, also of Horton, Kansas, are charged with four counts of wire fraud. The indictment alleges Ramirez recruited Negonsott, a volunteer firefighter, to set fires on the Kickapoo Reservation from July to November 2015 that the Kickapoo fire department was called to fight.
The Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas contracted with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide fire suppression services on the reservation. The contract called for the bureau to pay the tribe $600 for each fire it fought. The indictment alleges the defendants set six fires on the reservation.
If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each count. The U.S. Department of Interior – Office of Inspector General, the Kickapoo Tribal Police and the FBI investigated.
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..