Nearly 6,000 acres of land burned Thursday in a pair of mammoth grass fires that kept firefighters and other volunteers scrambling for hours to save several homes in harm’s way.
Two vacated structures did burn, one abandoned house near the intersection of Nebraska Road and 4800 Street; the other a structure near 3200 Street and Alabama Road.
The larger of the two fires burned nearly 3,200 acres along a five-mile swath through eastern Allen County, forcing the closure of U.S. 54 for about three hours.
The fire first was reported to authorities about 2:30 p.m. near the intersection of Minnesota Road and 4800 Street, Allen County Emergency Management Director Pam Beasley said.
Hot, dry weather coupled with a brisk south wind quickly fueled the blaze. The fire wound up reaching timberland three miles north of the highway, Beasley said, before it was contained by about midnight, although firefighters remained on the scene overnight and into Friday to monitor hot spots, with occasional flare-ups occurring.
The fire’s thick plume of smoke — visible from as far away as Iola — prompted authorities to close a three-mile stretch of U.S. 54 between Bronson and Moran.
The second fire was reported about 3:30 p.m. Thursday and burned about 2,500 acres in south Allen County, threatening a handful of farmhouses, Beasley said.
Because volunteers from Elsmore and Savonburg already were dispatched to the other fire in east Allen County, members of the Humboldt Volunteer Fire Department were summoned to this fire, Humboldt Fire Chief Kent Barfoot said.
RESIDENTS were evacuated from near both fires until they were contained.
The simultaneous fires “certainly taxed everyone,” Beasley said.
Barfoot said Humboldt firefighters were on scene for about two hours before other agencies were able to assist.
“We got through it in pretty good shape,” Barfoot said.
Others assisting at both scenes were volunteers from the Allen County, LaHarpe Rural and Moran departments, as well as crews from Iola Fire Department.
Offering mutual aid were volunteers from Anderson, Linn, Bourbon and Neosho counties, as well as law enforcement personnel, the Kansas Highway Patrol and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
A number of farmers brought trucks with water sprayers to assist. AgChoice brought in a large tanker truck as well. Neighbors and friends helped spray water on dried grass surrounding homes near both fires, successfully preventing homes from being damaged.
“It was impressive to see everybody working together,” Beasley said.