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Wildfire Burns Nearly 110 Square Miles in Kansas, Oklahoma

The National Weather Service said the fire started Tuesday night near the Kansas border in Woods County, Oklahoma; wind gusts of up to 30 mph helped spread the blaze into Kansas
By The News · 24 of March 2016 08:25:11
Jeff Clark and Roger Van Rankin watch the fire east of Lake City, Kan., Wednesday, March 23, 2016, No available, photo: Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News via AP

KIOWA, Kansas — A wildfire burning Wednesday across nearly 110 square miles of rural Oklahoma and Kansas destroyed at least two homes and shut down stretches of highway, while strong wind and dry conditions increased fire threats in neighboring states, authorities said.

Smoke and blowing dirt obscure the sun near Medicine Lodge, Kan., Wednesday, March 23, 2016. The smoke was from a large range grass fire west of Medicine Lodge. Photo: Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News via AP

Smoke and blowing dirt obscure the sun near Medicine Lodge, Kan., Wednesday, March 23, 2016. The smoke was from a large range grass fire west of Medicine Lodge. Photo: Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News via AP

Gov. Sam Brownback declared a state of disaster emergency late Wednesday, which will clear the way for state resources to assist the affected communities in south-central Kansas. Voluntary evacuations were ordered in one community where up to 1,000 structures were in danger, authorities said.

The National Weather Service said the fire started Tuesday night near the Kansas border in Woods County, Oklahoma. Wind gusts of up to 30 mph helped spread the blaze into Kansas. No injuries have been reported in either state.

The Kansas Department of the Adjutant General said in a statement Wednesday night that the fire is threatening residents of the Barber County town of Medicine Lodge.

Ben Bauman, director of public affairs for the department, said the Medicine Lodge mayor called for voluntary evacuations in the town of 2,000 people. Two houses have been destroyed and 800 to 1,000 homes and businesses were threatened, he said in the statement.

In Wichita, about 85 miles northeast of Medicine Lodge, ash fell from the sky, the Wichita Eagle reported. The fire also forced the closure of a stretch of U.S. 160 and U.S. 281.

Earlier, about a dozen homes were evacuated in Kansas’ Comache County. None were damaged, county emergency management coordinator John Lehman said. But he noted that wind speeds were increasing and complicating firefighting efforts.

“With this kind of wind, it’s going to be kind of bad,” Lehman said.

Medicine Lodge, Kan., police officer Todd Geist stands under a cloud of smoke and blowing dirt as he blocks traffic from traveling west on Stolp Avenue in Medicine Lodge, Kan., Wednesday, March 23, 2016. The road that turns into River Road to Lake City was closed due to smoke from a large range grass fire west of the city. Photo: Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News via AP

Medicine Lodge, Kan., police officer Todd Geist stands under a cloud of smoke and blowing dirt as he blocks traffic from traveling west on Stolp Avenue in Medicine Lodge, Kan., Wednesday, March 23, 2016. The road that turns into River Road to Lake City was closed due to smoke from a large range grass fire west of the city. Photo: Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News via AP

Mark Goeller, fire management chief of Oklahoma Forestry Services, said an airplane was being used to dump water on the flames.

Asked if the fire was under control, Goeller said: “Oh, no. Not by any stretch of the imagination.”

Dozens of fire trucks and hundreds of firefighters were helping to gradually contain the blaze, Lehman said. Oil field crews hauled water to the scene in tractor-trailers to help.

Parts of New Mexico and northwest Texas also were at extreme risk for wildfires on Wednesday because of warm, windy, dry conditions, according to the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center. The area covers more than 120,000 square miles and includes the cities of Lubbock, Texas; Oklahoma City; and Wichita and Topeka in Kansas.

Oklahoma Forestry Services also warned local fire departments that conditions would worsen through the evening, with winds expected to shift.