Firefighters battle Ellis County blaze, offer assistance

By Kaley Conner
Hays Daily News – March 7, 2017

High winds and dry conditions made for a dangerous situation Monday, with grass fires sparking up in various parts of the state, damaging property and threatening entire communities.

A fire was not reported in Ellis County until late Monday evening; a grass fire in rural Ellis County northwest of Hays was extinguished in approximately 45 minutes, with crews leaving the scene around midnight, said Ellis County Fire Chief Darin Myers.

“No structures were damaged; we spared one on the end of it,” Myers said, noting many area residents rushed to assist fire crews. “There was no damage to anything, just grassland and some wheat stubble.”

At its worst, the fire spanned almost a mile long, and orange flames were visible against the night sky.

Local farmers arrived with plows and water trucks to help firefighters hold the line of fire, and many other residents had contacted Myers to say they were ready to help if needed. The county’s public works department also provided assistance.

“It was very impressive,” he said. “We had farmers out there with plows or discs. We would knock down a fire line, and they would hop on right behind us and pile it in.”

Myers said he was returning to the scene this morning to determine how many acres were burned and if a definite cause can be identified. Fire crews initially suspected the flames were started by sparking power lines.

Ellis County fire also was dispatched in the wee hours of Monday morning to a wildfire in Reno County, but other fires later started closer to home.

“We have a lot of dry, dead vegetation for rapid fire growth, and 50 mph gusts definitely did not help that,” Myers said at Monday’s Ellis County Commission meeting.

County crews also responded to an aid request near Stockton, as a fire threatened to encroach on the community and some residents were evacuated as a precaution.

The cities of Hays and Ellis sent fire crews to help control a wildfire in Ness County in Ransom, which destroyed multiple homes.

Ellis County EMS crews also were on standby in case evacuation assistance was needed; a few area nursing homes were potentially in the path of fire, but did not need to evacuate, director Kerry McCue said.

Fires also were reported in Thomas County and Russell County. Interstate 70 was closed near Russell because the fire was so close to the highway near Wilson.

Fire departments across western Kansas were maxed out; the county had to decline an aid request for another significant fire near Spearville, Myers said.

“With the amount of fires surrounding all areas of the county, we’re currently covering the south part of Rooks County and helping the western part of Russell County,” he said Monday evening prior to the Ellis County fire.

Myers said he is beginning the process of formally instituting a county-wide burn ban, but for now, he encouraged residents to take heed of the situation and avoid burning at all costs.

“No burning at all,” he said. “I’ll be discussing with the commission next week to start a burn ban. … hopefully we just get some rain.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
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