Conditions in High Plains could lead to more wildfires this year

Feb 27, 2017

Smoke blackens the sky south of Holcomb Thursday, as local fire departments battled a blaze that burned a 1.5-mile wide, 11-mile long swath of land.
Credit Casey Richmeier

Last year’s Anderson Creek Wildfire was the biggest known wildfire in Kansas’s history, burning 390,000 acres of land in Oklahoma and Kansas and killing hundreds of cattle, destroying millions of dollars worth of buildings and fences, and endangering the lives of hundreds of residents and volunteer firefighters.

And conditions are present that could make wildfires even more prevalent in 2017.

On Thursday, several wildfires burned across southwest Kansas and the Texas panhandle but emergency responders contained the blazes, preventing them from spreading despite high winds and dry conditions.

The Garden City Telegram reported last week, the grass fires were reported in Finney, Haskell and Gray Counties.

A fire that started five miles south of Holcomb started just before 4 p.m. about five miles south of Holcomb. 50 mph wind gusts drove the fire south, close to the Haskell County line before crews from Holcomb, Garden City, Sublette, Satanta and Lockport Township, as well as several local farmers, were able to contain it to a few smoldering patches by about 8:30 Thursday night.

Holcomb Fire Chief Bill Knight told High Plains Public Radio Friday that the burn path was about one and a half miles wide and 11 miles long.

The Haskell and Gray county fires were also contained Thursday.

According to the Amarillo Globe, multiple fires started throughout the Texas Panhandle Thursday afternoon.

Whipped by winds and dry conditions, multiple fires were reported in Randall County between Amarillo and Canyon just off of Interstate 27, in Oldham County near Boy’s Ranch, along Interstate 40 south of Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport, and in Hutchinson County outside of Borger.

The fires in Randall and Oldham Counties were the most severe. Officials said four buildings were damaged in Randall County and thousands of acres burned through the night in Oldham County.

Most of those fires were contained by Friday evening.

As the Wichita Eagle reports, it could get worse before it gets better.

Kansas Forest Service fire specialist Eric Ward told the Wichita Eagle that plentiful rains and heavy grass growth the past two summers, and another unusually dry fall and winter are just the type of conditions that could result in more wildfires than normal in the state.

Several areas in the High Plains region were under red flag warnings for strong winds and relative humidity Monday and Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, including northwest Kansas, southeast Colorado and the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles.