Red flag warnings are in effect until Wednesday as southwest Kansas saw its first signs of wildfire season in recent days.
From Sunday into Monday, wildfires started in Finney, Stevens, Clark and Haskell counties in southwest Kansas. The trouble began in Stevens County on Sunday shortly before noon, when a fire started half a mile north of Moscow and burned through 10,000 hay bales, propelled by 50 mph winds. Gov. Jeff Colyer issued a declaration of disaster emergency.
The fire was under control by 2 p.m. Monday, no livestock were lost and no one was injured, according to Darcy Golliher, public information officer for the Kansas Incident Management Teams.
Golliher said responders from Seward, Morton, Stevens, Haskell and Kearny counties worked to put the fire out with 37 trucks. She also said there was a second smaller fire south of Hugoton and another in a Haskell County cornfield.
The Garden City Fire Department received a call about another fire in Finney County just before 2:15 p.m. Monday.
GCFD firefighters partnered with firefighters from the Garfield township to put the fire out. The fire consumed 200 acres and was extinguished by 3:40 p.m.
According to GCFD Battalion Chief Ken Seirer, the fire started at the Sand and Sage Gun Range and spread across open pastureland. He said no one was injured and that the cause of the fire remains unknown.
Another fire that started near Ashland before spreading about three miles south and consuming up to 2,000 acres is still being monitored for hot spots by responders.
Last March, Clark County got the brunt of damage caused by the March 6 Starbuck Fire, the largest in a series of fires that devoured 700,000 acres of land across Kansas, with many more acres lost in Texas and Oklahoma.
The fire broke the previous record established the year before by the Anderson Creek Fire. This year, Kansas is positioned for another potentially devastating wildfire season.
According to the Kansas Drought Monitor, 15 counties are being affected by extreme drought conditions while many more are seeing severe drought conditions.
Counties affected by extreme drought conditions include Harper, Barber, Comanche, Kiowa, Edwards, Pawnee, Hodgeman, Ford, Clark, Meade, Gray, Haskell, Seward, Stevens, Grant and Morton counties.
Finney County is seeing severe and moderate drought conditions. According to the National Weather Service in Dodge City, there has been no measurable precipitation in Garden City since Nov. 18 — 107 days ago — and there has been no significant precipitation since October.
NWS Forecaster Bill Turner noted that this is a season when the region is especially prone to fires due to the abundance of dormant grasses. He added that those grasses are still standing tall after an absence of winter snowfall.
“It’s a recipe for a mess,” he said. “The thing is, we’re sitting basically in a matchbox. It’s been so dry for so long, and any day you get winds like this, it’s extremely easy for these things to start.”
Describing the fire near Ashland, Turner said a change in wind direction could have threatened Ashland itself.
Gusts on Tuesday are expected to reach 60 mph, he said, but winds will die down on Wednesday and remain calm into Friday.
He added that there is no sign of precipitation in the foreseeable future, but he expects a precipitation shift by April.
“That’s not a forecast at all,” Turner said. “More than likely, something should change by then. I mean, it’s got to rain again someday.”
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.