Wildfires Bring Disaster Declaration in Kansas, Burn Ban in Nebraska

March 16, 2018

Gov. Jeff Colyer issued a disaster declaration for three wildfires currently burning in central Kansas.

State officials announced that Rice County officials have asked for help from the Kansas National Guard to fight the fires. Colyer says the Guard will be sending helicopters to the area to help with the effort.

The National Weather Service says one fire about 10 miles southeast of Lyons. The number of acres burning was not immediately available.

The Adjunct General’s office says in a news release one fire has entered McPherson County and other counties have reported fires.

The State Emergency Operations Center in Topeka has been activated to help coordinate the firefighting efforts.

Most of Kansas is under high fire danger warnings because of dry conditions and strong wind.

‘Sitting on a Powder Keg’

Rural Nebraska also is under serious threat of wildfires. A fire chief who says southwestern Nebraska’s Red Willow County is “sitting on a powder keg” has barred outdoor burning of any kind and is refusing to issue any burn permits.

Red Willow Western fire chief Bill Elliott told the McCook Gazette that firefighters have been busy because it’s very dry in the area and conditions aren’t expected to improve anytime soon.

He advises landowners to closely monitor anything they’ve burned lately because embers can rekindle in a breeze.

The fires “are coming too fast and furious,” he said.

Red Willow Western firefighters have dealt with multiple fires in the past month, including one that was rekindled from a permitted burn on Valentine’s Day, Elliott said.

Another fire last week, which was caused by an electrical short, burned one house and injured a man. That blaze forced a large portion of McCook to be evacuated as firefighters throughout the area fought the blaze that was spreading quickly through dry grass.

Despite the strain of repeated fires, the Red Willow crew is doing well, Elliott said.

“I’m proud of them,” he said.

Red Willow Western has also received help from other area departments, which has helped with the challenging number of fires, Elliott said.

“That’s what fire departments do. They help each other,” he said.

Firefighters from Keystone, Lemoyne, Ogallala, Wallace, Imperial and Grant recently came to the department’s aid.

“They brought six trucks and two command vehicles, and stayed all night,” Elliott said. “They were a real salvation. We were beat. We felt so blessed to have their help.”

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