Texas A&M Forest Service dispatches crews/equipment to fight Panhandle fires

Posted March 21, 2017

State emergency officials reported that eight people have been treated at hospitals for breathing problems caused by the smoky air.

Wildfires scorching hundreds of square miles of Kansas, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma have been blamed in at least six deaths as of Wednesday. He said temperatures should top in the 70s, with afternoon humidity low.

But Bill Bunting, forecast operations chief at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said human activity causes most wildfires in the prairie - a cigarette thrown from a auto or sometimes a spark from a catalytic converter.

"When unfortunate situations happen, it is humbling to see how generous folks can be to help those who are in need and we are happy to provide a place for those funds to be held", said Jeff Jaronek, coordinator of the OFC, a charitable arm of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association.

Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the Nebraska-based National Drought Mitigation Center, said the weekly drought report he put together for release Thursday will show an intensification of drought conditions in the fire-ravaged region. The patrol says he succumbed to smoke when he got out of his vehicle. Two SUVs crashed into the truck, injuring six people, state trooper Michael Racy said.

In Kansas, wildfires have burned about 625 square miles of land, said Katie Horner, the spokeswoman for the state's Department of Emergency Management.

Two other fires that burned earlier in the week, in Potter and Gray Counties, are both 100 percent contained now, with the Potter County fire fully contained on Tuesday while the Gray County fire was fully contained Wednesday evening. Oklahoma State Forestry Service spokesman Luke Kanclerz is on the fire line.

Already Tuesday, fire units were headed to the Gate area in Beaver County where a flareup was reported. That larger fire was responsible for a death on Monday, authorities said Tuesday without providing details.

Evacuation orders were issued for the communities of Laverne, Buffalo and Fort Supply in Woodward and Payne Counties. She said 66 people from the area were in shelters Tuesday in Hutchinson, which is 40 miles northwest of Wichita.

"Conditions are very unsafe today and we are urging everyone to use extreme caution and avoid any activity that can cause a spark", Oklahoma Forestry Director George Geissler said in a statement.

Several hundred more people evacuated their homes in Russell, Ellsworth and Comanche counties, which are in central Kansas.

The first of the three died at 10 p.m., according to Martin, while the two burn victims were airlifted to Amarillo and Lubbock but did not survive.

The threat of wildfires remained high in the U.S. Plains due to dry weather, strong winds and parched vegetation. The fire is now contained, with the exception of hay stacks that ranchers are now using loaders to spread and extinguish. The fire has burned more than 45 square miles of land and destroyed three homes. The Logan County Emergency Management Office said at least four structures, including three homes, were destroyed.

He said there are no estimates of damage so far, but there are some estimates that more than 150,000 acres were burned.