Raging fires scorch hundreds of acres

By Ray Nolting
Parsons Sun – March 16, 2018

Fires burned portions of 1,500 acres in Labette and Montgomery counties Thursday and the Labette County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the cause.

All 10 Labette County fire departments had personnel or equipment responding to blazes in the southwest quarter of the county as Montgomery County fire crews battled blazes in the hills near the Labette County line. Upon request from Charlie Morse, the Labette County emergency preparedness director, the Kansas Army National Guard deployed two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Topeka early Thursday afternoon. The helicopters filled up their Bambi buckets in a large pond about a mile and a half southeast of the blaze, as the crow flies, on Brown Road then dumped the water on fire lines on both sides of Anderson Road.

Morse said five fires were reported about the same time in Labette County Thursday in the southwest quarter of the county. Firefighters worked to save structures when they were threatened. The largest of the blazes in Labette County was southeast of U.S. 160 and Anderson Road, where fire scorched portions of about 500 acres. A large fire west of Anderson Road in Montgomery County kicked flames at least 10 feet high in places and burned portions of 1,000 acres of pasture.

Labette and Montgomery counties on Thursday issued local disaster declarations, according to the Kansas Adjutant General’s Office in Topeka.

Fire danger remains high Friday with red flag warnings over much of the state because of high wind and dry conditions, according to Jane Welch of the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department.

U.S. 160 was closed from K-101 to Oliver Road in Montgomery County because of low visibility from the smoke, Morse said.

He said the largest fires were along Anderson Road in both counties. The other fires to the southeast in Labette County each burned smaller acreage, about 10 to 20 acres, and were handled by firefighters.

“They never really got too out of control,” Morse said.

Firefighters and equipment were then redeployed to other blazes.

He said the Black Hawks first dropped water on fire along a creek bed near Anderson Road in Labette County. Then they were used in Montgomery County for its raging fires that threatened structures before returning to Topeka.

“This year in the state that’s a free asset,” Morse said of the Black Hawks. “Due to the fires in recent years they’re not making you pay for them and wait to get them. They want you to get them out early.”

He said one Montgomery County firefighter was treated for minor burns, but Morse didn’t know of any other firefighter injuries Thursday.

Water is always a concern in fires outside of cities. Grass rigs and other firefighting trucks that entered pastures refilled from water tanker trucks placed around the fire zone. Bartlett Co-op even sent water trucks to help out, Morse said.

Though fire resources were stretched thin, Morse said departments left enough manpower and equipment in fire stations in case other emergencies developed.

Morse said the response from fire departments was “very good.”

“I’m very pleased with how the two counties worked together. The assistance from the state is what saved the day,” Morse said.

The fire rekindled on Anderson Road later Thursday afternoon.

Labette County Sheriff Darren Eichinger said his department is investigating the causes of the five fires.


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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