Pair of Reno County wildfires under control after charring nearly 1,000 acres
Two large brush fires which dozens of area firefighters battled for most of Monday afternoon and evening were both under control by 9:30 p.m.
Only one structure was known to be damaged, and there were no injuries, Reno County Sheriff Darrian Campbell reported Monday night.
Firefighters were expected to stay on the scene of both fires overnight, working on hotspots, with an early morning shift in the wind expected, Campbell said.
“We’re looking at probably four to seven days before we leave this area,” said Doug Hanen, Division Chief of Operations said earlier Monday evening. “It is in very heavy timber all along the west flank. We actually have active bulldozers working at this point trying to cut some fire breaks, it’s still quite a labor-intensive process at this point."
Hutchinson and Reno County residents are urged to take precautions all week as the area is under "Catastrophic" and "Very High" ratings on the Grassland Fire Danger Index through the week.
The National Weather Service puts out the Grassland Fire Danger Index, which assigns a risk level for wildland fires based on the amount of dead grass, temperature, wind speed, and humidity. The ratings correspond to the likelihood that fires will get out of control.
Monday’s first fire started about 3 p.m. in an area north of Fourth Avenue and west of Willison Road. Around 4 p.m. it appeared the fire might be contained south of 30th Avenue using back-burns, but sparks carried by gusts topping 50 mph carried it north.
In the end, the fire burned an estimated 600 acres, most of that grassland, between Fourth and 43rd avenues, and Willison and Kent roads. No structures were lost in that 3-mile area, Campbell said.
After crews had already been battling the first blaze for at least two hours, another brush fire erupted near 95th Avenue and Plum Street. Also pushed by the unrelenting winds, it was carried north of 108th Avenue and into McPherson County.
Campbell said he didn’t know how far into McPherson County it burned, but that it charred an estimated 300 to 400 acres in Reno County and damaged one structure. Campbell said he wasn’t sure what the structure was, or how heavily it was damaged, but he didn’t believe it was a home.
Officials have not determined the causes of either fire.
Emergency Management Director Adam Weishaar said it was not believed that a rekindle from another brush fire on Sunday afternoon was the cause of the second fire because that fire was stopped at least a mile south. The Sunday fire was caused by a controlled burn that got out of control after winds picked up.
Due to the heavy smoke and number of fire vehicles from at least four counties traversing the roads, the Buhler School district canceled more than a dozen bus routes after school on Monday, asking parents to pick up their children.
Fourth Avenue was closed east of Kent Road for most of the afternoon, as firefighters staged from the area. It reopened about 6:30 p.m.
Plum Street, however, remained closed overnight, from 82nd north to the county line, and 95th Avenue was closed from Plum to Lorraine.
Firefighters included crews from Hutchinson and Reno, Harvey, Sedgwick, Rice, and McPherson counties.
A Kansas Forestry Service firefighting tanker plane - a Grumman S-2 Tracker Water Bomber flown by Bill Garrison and known as Tanker 95 - also made several runs on both fires, dumping some 2,400 gallons of water at a time.
Pizza Ranch and Firehouse Subs both donated meals, Campbell said.
On Monday, fire officials said accumulated water from recent rains had made battling Sunday’s fire difficult, with firetrucks unable to get into some areas or getting stuck and having to be towed out.
It was unclear how much of an issue remained on Monday. Several trucks did get stuck during the day but heavy brush and trees may have been more of a challenge in getting into areas to get at the fire.
“It was a valiant effort by many, many fire crews out there to defend those structures,” Campbell said.