Windy and dry conditions proved to be a potent combination for firefighters battling grass fires in several area counties Thursday afternoon.
Fires were reported in Finney, Haskell and Gray counties throughout the day.
“It was one of those days,” Holcomb Fire Chief Bill Knight said Thursday night. “We’ve got some really tired firefighters tonight, I’ll tell you that.”
The Finney County fire started just before 4 p.m. about five miles south of Holcomb. Wind gusts up to 50 mph drove the fire from an area due west of the Sunflower Electric power plant south to within a few miles of the Haskell County line, at one point covering an area two miles wide and five to seven miles long.
“It was moving so fast, we really didn’t have a chance to stop it. We just had to kind of let it come to us and put it out in that manner,” Knight said. “The wind was one of the worst possible things. And then, once we started to get a handle on it, the wind switched directions when that cold front came through and pushed it back toward an area that we previously thought wasn’t going to be affected.”
In addition to the Holcomb Fire Department, units from Garden City, Lockport township, and Sublette and Satanta from Haskell County assisted with the fight. The last truck cleared the scene around 8:25 p.m., though Knight said there may be some fence posts and hay bales that will continue to burn throughout the night.
Knight said that as of late Thursday night, the cause hadn’t been determined, but fire officials planned to return to the scene Friday to try and determine a cause and get a handle on the damage. No one was injured, and Knight doesn’t believe any structures were lost.
Knight said even individual citizens provided assistance in Finney County.
“We had a ton of farmers show up with discs and tractors, and people showed up in trucks with water tanks on them. Just a whole bunch of people that helped us get it under control,” he said.
Knight said firefighters from Sublette and Satanta had actually been on their way to Gray County when they diverted to Finney County. He said a transformer exploded south of Cimarron, sparking another grass fire that drew units from Hodgeman County and Garfield Township in eastern Finney County.
Haskell County firefighters had just finished battling a blaze 12 miles north of Sublette. The fire there, in a field near the intersection of County Road 70 and HH, started around 12:30 p.m. and was contained by 2 p.m.
Ten trucks carrying firefighters from Satanta and Sublette arrived on the scene and tried to contain the blaze as strong winds carried embers to the east. Fields were charred as far as road KK, about three miles east of the original call.
Local farmers also helped contain the fire in Haskell County, using farm equipment to turn up dirt and offering their water tanks to the fire trucks.
Haskell County Sheriff’s deputies directed traffic along County Road 70 and U.S. Highway 83, as smoke from the blaze began to impede vehicles.
The Haskell County Fire Chief could not comment on the definite source of the fire, but a Satanta firefighter on the scene who wished to be unnamed guessed that burning garbage was to blame.
The National Weather Service did issue a Red Flag warning on Thursday for southwest Kansas due to the critical fire conditions in effect. A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior, and Thursday’s highs in the area were in the 70s, and wind speeds were 25 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph.
The weather forecast calls for cooler temperatures in the low 40s today and 50s over the weekend.