Kansas wildfires consume thousands of acres

Kansas wildfires consume thousands of acres and at least one home. The Kansas Forest Service says no fatalities were reported as of Monday morning.

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April 9, 2024 - 2:32 PM

Wildfires have forced evacuations in Riley and Pottawatomie counties as they consume thousands of acres and at least one home. Photo by Kansas Forest Service

Two wildfires north of Manhattan are largely contained after burning thousands of acres, forcing road closures and evacuation notices.

At least one home has been destroyed by the fires, but according to the Kansas Forest Service, no fatalities have been reported. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued a disaster emergency declaration Friday in anticipation of dry and windy conditions that intensified the fires.

Shawna Hartman, public information officer for the Kansas Forest Service, said firefighters were working to contain the fire on Friday, but the high winds and dry air helped feed the fire.

“When that dry air hit the already-ongoing fire, fire behavior intensified on Saturday,” Hartman said in an interview.

Crews responded to two significant fires. One has gone by several names, including the Burklund-Axelton Fire, Axelton Hill Road Fire and Jenkins Fire. The other is known as the Big Blue 2 Fire or Blue River Fire.

Hartman said crews that responded from other parts of the state would be released from the Burklund-Axelton fire Monday evening. That fire is estimated to be 80% contained.

The Blue River Fire is estimated to be 60% contained.

“They are planning on patrolling again tomorrow, and then resources will be released midday tomorrow if (there is) no new growth,” Hartman said.

Hartman said that, as of Monday afternoon, the Kansas Forest Service did not know how many acres had burned. Incident commanders flew over the fires on Monday, she said, but found the blaze was not burning where they had thought.

On Sunday morning, Riley County Fire District No. 1 reported on Facebook that the fire had burned more than 3,000 acres just in that county.

Hartman said the Axelton Hill Road Fire, the larger of the two, began Friday near Tuttle Creek Lake Reservoir in Pottawatomie County before jumping over to Riley County and burning “aggressively” in the lake and river bottoms.

Becky Ryan, public information officer for Pottawatomie County, said that fire began as a prescribed burn, commonly performed in Kansas to control invasive plants, encourage new prairie growth and prevent wildfires. This one got out of control, Ryan said.

The Big Blue 2 Fire is burning near the town of Blue Rapids in Marshall County, Hartman said.

State Fire Marshal Mark Engholm said in a Facebook post on Sunday that “high winds, wind shifts, rough terrain and abundant fuels are making (the fires) very difficult to control.”

Evacuation notices were issued Sunday for parts of both Riley and Pottawatomie counties. A social media post from Riley County police on Sunday said the “fire is approaching swiftly and is not contained.”

The order in Pottawatomie County has since been rescinded.

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