Hurricane-Force Winds Spark Wildfires in Kansas, Destroying Homes and Killing Cattle

(Reno County Fire Dept.)

High winds and dry conditions resulted in multiple wildfires in western Kansas on Wednesday. At least a dozen homes burned and at least three people were hospitalized. Fires were reported in Sheridan, Trego, Ellis, Russell, Osborne, and Rooks County. Fires were also reported in other counties.

Ranchers in Oklahoma and Texas also suffered wildfires on Wednesday. Portions of Guymon, Okla., were evacuated Wednesday afternoon as crews battled wildfires on the edge town. Texas reported at least five wildfires Wednesday.

This storm stands out for the record-setting warmth that fueled it, the number of reports of destructive winds it generated and for spreading severe thunderstorms, including tornadoes, farther north than previously observed in December.

Overturned semi
Multiple semitractor-trailers overturned on Kansas Interstates. Photo: Trooper Ben, KHP

At times, the winds gusted more than 100 mph in parts of Kansas, stoking wildfires from the Great Plains to the Missouri River Valley.

Across Kansas, the winds limited visibility and sent semitractor-trailers weaving. Interstate 70 and a handful of other highways in western Kansas were closed down for hours.

In Russell County in central Kansas, wildfires burned into the night, prompting evacuations in Waldo, Paradise and Fairport, and destroying multiple homes. Crews in the town of Russell worked through the night to restore power.

The wildfires prompted the Kansas Livestock Association and other ag groups to begin coordinating donations of feed, fencing supplies and cash for affected ranchers. The bulk of the acres burned are within the counties of Russell, Osborne, Rooks and Ellis. Ranchers in the hardest hit areas lost fence, livestock and feed resources, KLA said. Ranch homes and outbuildings also were among the losses. 

Heartland Regional Stockyards at Plainville will serve as a collection and distribution point for hay and supplies. Heartland has some cane hay on hand for those who need feed quickly. Contact the auction market at (785) 688-4080, Landon Schneider at (785) 259-3234 or Brandon Hamel at (785) 434-6280. Russell Livestock also is taking hay donations. Stockwater tanks are a need, too. 

A supply donation site for those impacted by fire in southwestern Lane County and surrounding counties has been set up at 3 E Rd 120, Dighton, KS. To coordinate a drop-off, call Erik Steffens at (620) 397-1687.     

Cash donations can be made through the Kansas Livestock Foundation (KLF), KLA’s charitable arm, by clicking here or sending a check, with “wildfire relief” written in the memo line, to 6031 S.W. 37th, Topeka, KS 66614. All proceeds will be used to help those affected by the recent weather event.  If you are in need of supplies or would like to make an in-kind donation, call KLA at (785) 273-5115. 

“The winds yesterday made it difficult to get burning fires contained,” said Gov. Laura Kelly. “Prepositioning firefighting personnel and equipment in western Kansas along with those assets responding will allow our aviation assets to quickly respond and keep Kansans safe. Local responders work heroically to respond when wildland fires threaten their communities and the state stands ready to back them up, if needed.”

“Much of Kansas is recovering from yesterday’s storms and wildland fires,” said Mark Neely with the Kansas Forest Service. “The Kansas Forest Service is working with state and local partners to get fires under control and mopped up so that we can return to normal conditions.”



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