A recap of the wildfires that have been burning since Tuesday, scorching nearly 400,000 acres across Kansas and Oklahoma. Despite the damage in the short-term, the habitat that rises when rains hit burned areas will be favorable for grazing and wildlife. (Video by Oliver Morrison and John Albert / The Wichita Eagle) jalbert@wichitaeagle.com
A recap of the wildfires that have been burning since Tuesday, scorching nearly 400,000 acres across Kansas and Oklahoma. Despite the damage in the short-term, the habitat that rises when rains hit burned areas will be favorable for grazing and wildlife. (Video by Oliver Morrison and John Albert / The Wichita Eagle) jalbert@wichitaeagle.com

Local

Kansas wildfire worsens, threatening Kiowa County (+video)

By Oliver Morrison and Gabriella Dunn

The Wichita Eagle

March 25, 2016 08:30 AM

UPDATED March 26, 2016 12:36 PM

The wildfire that has burned nearly half of Barber County continued burning out of control Friday evening, with only 15 percent of the fire contained.

Crews feared they were in for a long night, with winds expected to gust up to 30 mph overnight and shift directions three times during the night.

Despite Kansas wildfire damage, a silver lining

A recap of the wildfires that have been burning since Tuesday, scorching nearly 400,000 acres across Kansas and Oklahoma. Despite the damage in the short-term, the habitat that rises when rains hit burned areas will be favorable for grazing and wildlife. (Video by Oliver Morrison and John Albert / The Wichita Eagle)

jalbert@wichitaeagle.com

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In Comanche County, where the fire had been largely contained since Thursday evening, wind reignited embers on Friday, raising fears that the fire would jump U.S. 160 and spread to Kiowa County, said John Lehman, Comanche County emergency manager.

“Right now they’re having spots that are kicking up, bringing up sparks, and they’re really trying to ride that pretty hard to keep it from jumping the road,” Lehman said.

By Friday evening, 90 percent of the fire in that county had been controlled, he said, although hot spots continued to flare up within the 60,000 scorched acres.

Right now they’re having spots that are kicking up, bringing up sparks, and they’re really trying to ride that pretty hard to keep it from jumping the road.

John Lehman, Comanche County emergency manager

In all, the fire has burned nearly 400,000 acres in two states.

Wildfires were also reported Friday in Clark, Meade, Harvey and Reno counties. About 1,000 acres burned near the Clark-Meade county line. About 14,000 acres burned in Harvey and Reno counties.

South and southeast winds between 20 and 30 miles per hour were complicating efforts to contain the fire Friday.

“Our biggest concern today is the wind shift,” Darcy Golliher, a spokeswoman for the state incident command team that has set up a field office in Medicine Lodge, said Friday.

Our biggest concern today is the wind shift.

Darcy Golliher, spokeswoman for the state incident command team

VIDEO: Fire destroys home in Gypsum Hills

Don Gerstner, 88, reflects on the past 24 hours and how a raging wildfire swept through the Gypsum Hills near Medicine Lodge, Kansas, destroying his house in minutes. Hundreds of thousands of acres were scorched in south-central Kansas by the fires. (Bo Rader/kansas.com) (March 24, 2016)

jgreen@wichitaeagle.com

“We’re just going to try to stay ahead of it,” she said.

The fires have burned so intensely the scorched earth left behind in Oklahoma and Kansas has been visible in satellite images.

Firefighters on the Thursday overnight shift were able to save a house from the flames in Barber County, Golliher said.

The Anderson Creek Wildfire in Barber County prompted the cancellation of performances of the “Easter Drama” at First Christian Church in Medicine Lodge on Friday and Saturday nights, according to a post on the Barber County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

Donations of hay

Ranchers and farmers from around Kansas and beyond donated bales of hay to the ranchers in south-central Kansas.

The ranchers were feeding the hay Friday to cattle and livestock that survived the wildfires.

Chris Boyd, a rancher who lists his hometown as Medicine Lodge, posted on Facebook about the hay donations. The post had been shared more than 5,000 times by Friday afternoon.

Boyd’s post said he had received 446 calls from donors as of Thursday.

“I fielded calls from surrounding states and from areas all over Kansas,” he wrote.

“I had several people call, never ask a question, and state that their trucks were ‘loaded and on the road,’” he said.

Mick Rausch, a farmer in Garden Plain, drove a trailer of hay to Medicine Lodge on Friday morning. He said the site had about 300 to 400 bales of hay at that time.

“This could be the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “They think they have enough for the weekend, but let’s see what next week brings.”

Right now they’re having spots that are kicking up, bringing up sparks, and they’re really trying to ride that pretty hard to keep it from jumping the road.

John Lehman, Comanche County emergency manager

Depending on weather, he said, recovery from the burn’s effects could be slow.

“The grass isn’t going to come back until we have a good, nice rain to bring it along,” he said. “And who knows when that’s going to be.”

Rausch said many farmers and ranchers drove an hour or more to drop off hay directly to the farms in need. He said some donors made multiple trips.

“It just makes you feel good, and that’s what Kansas people are about,” Rausch said.

He said he heard about the need for hay donations from social media.

He said he was disheartened by how many ranchers who are likely dealing with the loss of cattle, and the respiratory damage and injuries to many that survived.

“When you have a fire moving that fast, the cattle can’t outrun it,” he said.

By Friday afternoon, so much hay had been donated that the Kansas Livestock Association called off the hay drive and instead asked people to donate money to buy fencing materials.

Todd Domer, vice president for communications for the association, said fences could be among the most damages.

“There are huge amounts of fence,” he said. “Miles and miles of fence that have been destroyed or severely damaged.”

The fire burned through Jerry Magnuson’s cattle ranch about five miles southwest of Medicine Lodge. He lost his fence, but not his sense of humor.

On Friday, while driving on the road, he passed his nephew, Flint Rucker, and Flint’s wife, Donna, riding in a pickup.

“I wonder if a guy can get a job building fence out here, you reckon?” Magnuson said.

“Yeah, you can start today,” Flint said.

Flint and Donna were driving around the area hoping to protect their wheat crop from the fire.

In the meantime, C.J. Sawyer, who works on Magnuson’s ranch, stood with cattle on the range as fire burned behind them to make sure the cows didn’t wander in the wrong direction.

VIDEO: Wildfire's wake reveals devastated landscapes

By Oliver Morrison

omorrison@wichitaeagle.com

Damage

The state won’t start compiling damages numbers until the fires are out, said Ben Bauman, director of public affairs for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

Once safety issues are taken care of, he said, “ Then well go into the assessment mode and start to look seriously at what the total amount of damages are.”

Ann Avery, spokeswoman for State Farm, said the insurance company had not yet received any claims in Kansas from the wildfire and received minimal claims from Oklahoma as of Friday.

She said wildfire damage is typically covered under standard homeowner policies and under standard farm or ranch policies.

But she said pasture and range fences are not typically covered.

Here is what was known as of Friday evening:

Comanche County

At least 25 power poles and two miles of wire needed to be replaced.

No livestock loss has been reported.

Several outbuildings and one mobile home were damaged.

About 60,000 acres have burned.

Barber County

Four bridges were destroyed

Several homes have been destroyed.

About 45 percent of the county – 426 square miles – burned.

Ranchers are reporting loss of livestock and fences destroyed, but numbers are not yet available.

Barber County officials are assessing damage to see if the total incurred by the county, businesses and residents reaches the threshold for a federal disaster declaration. A FEMA disaster declaration would make federal dollars available to help pay the cost of replacing damaged public infrastructure, such as bridges.

Oklahoma

Officials planned to conduct damage assessments Friday to determine how many buildings have been lost in the blaze, said Michelle Finch-Walker, a spokeswoman for the state’s Forestry Services.

Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

How to help

The Kansas Livestock Foundation, the KLA’s charitable arm, is seeking cash donations for fencing materials. The checks may be made out to: Kansas Livestock Foundation, with “Disaster relief” in the memo line, and sent to 6031 SW 37th St., Topeka, KS 66614. Call the KLA at 785-273-5115 for recommendations on where to send relief supplies.