Cause of Kansas Wildfire Still Unknown

The wildfire that has burned more than 625 square miles in two states could have been started by anything, an Oklahoma emergency management director said Thursday.

What is known is that it started shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday along U.S. 64 in Woods County, Oklahoma.

“We’re still working it,” Steve Foster, the Woods County Emergency Management Director said Thursday. “It could have been caused by a tire, a cigarette or chain dragging.”

The 43 miles between Alva, Okla., and Medicine Lodge is mostly dry prairie grass, deep canyons, fences, cattle, and red cedar trees – fuel easily consumed by a fire that was fanned by 35 to 50 mph winds.

The area is protected by volunteer fire districts.

In fact, 96.9 percent of Kansas’ roughly 83,000 square miles is protected by rural fire districts, says Jason Hartman, a statewide fire prevention specialist stationed out of the Kansas Forest Service office in Manhattan.

Some of those volunteers are fighting with their own pickup trucks with water tanks in the beds of the pickups.

Some volunteers firefighters are fighting with their own pickup trucks with water tanks in the beds of the pickups.

Mark Dugan owns a 2,640-acre ranch about 9 miles west of Medicine Lodge. On Thursday, he estimated nearly 100 percent of his grassland burned on Wednesday.

Dugan, who lives in Goddard, drove out Wednesday night to survey the damage. It was the little things that caught his attention.

The guard rails on U.S. 160 had fallen off of burned wood posts that once supported them.

Flames 40 to 50 feet high burned in ancient cottonwood trees along Medicine River.

Neighbors took turns guarding fallen power lines because the poles were burned and the neighbors feared someone might get hurt.

“You think of all the volunteers and people from all over the state – ranchers – everybody working to fight these fires,” Dugan said.

A quick-thinking hired hand and rancher saved Dugan’s 300 head of cattle by putting the livestock on winter wheat. But the fences have all burned.

It will cost $5,000 to $7,000 a mile to replace the fence. He has 15 miles to replace.

“Everybody woke up this morning and is calling one another,” Dugan said. “Nobody knows yet just what all the devastation is. This is not just a grass fire. It is going to be really hard for everybody to comprehend the scope of damage.”

Country singer Martina McBride, whose hometown is Sharon. posted on Facebook late Wednesday:

“There is a massive grass fire in my home county in Kansas. Has burned over 72,000 acres. No injuries reported. This is Medicine Lodge at 4:15 pm today. Winds are very strong. Voluntary evacuation is underway. This is where I grew up. I’m so concerned! My parents are ok. Please pray for the firefighters, volunteers and residents of Barber County.”

Source: Becky Tanner and Michael Pearce, The Wichita Eagle

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