Wildfire Smoke Travels Hundreds of Miles

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Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 1.54.35 PMThe National Weather Service says that the smoke from the wildfires burning in Oklahoma and Kansas has spread throughout the nation–at an alarmingly fast rate. Smoke has been detected in Springfield, Missouri, about 290 miles to the east, and in St. Louis, about 460 miles to the northeast of the fires. These fires have consumed more than 600 square miles of largely rural land along the Kansas-Oklahoma border since Wednesday. Springfield meteorologist Mark Burchfield commented on the overwhelming nature of the smell, saying that it was “pretty strong” as he was leaving for work Thursday morning. The winds are also perpetuating the fight against this fire, spreading the smoke across areas adjacent to the Kansas-Oklahoma border since Wednesday.

A TIMELINE OF EVENTS

At 10:45 a.m, authorities announced that the wildfire has destroyed 85 square miles of grassland in the Texas Panhandle. However, no one has been gravely injured in the fire that began Wednesday. The Texas A&M Forest Service said Thursday that the largest wildfire has burned about 70 square miles in rural areas in Carson, Hutchinson, Roberts and Gray counties. Agency spokeswoman Linda Moon said that many homes were evacuated in Skellytown, about 45 miles northeast of Amarillo, but the families were allowed to return after a few hours. A smaller fire has started about 15 square miles of grassland in Wheeler County.

At 10:20 a.m, another grass fire started in Kansas, a couple states over from Oklahoma blaze–the two fires spanning over several miles. A shelter for evacuated residents has been established at a high school. At this time, several small structures have been damaged but no injuries have been reported. A sheriff’s department official wasn’t able to confidently describe the size of the fire. “The National Weather Service says wind gusts of up to 50 mph were reported early Thursday in nearby Wichita. Winds had died down to 30 mph around daybreak and were expected to continue losing strength,” Reports ABCNews.

At 8:50 a.m., authorities gave a rough estimate of the damage inflicted: 625 square miles in Oklahoma and Kansas. The worst damage in Kansas is in Barber and Comanche counties, where the fScreen Shot 2016-03-24 at 1.54.41 PMire continues to burn Thursday. Forestry Services spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker says crews are surveying the damage from a birds-eye view to get a concrete value of acres burned.  An emergency management official said earlier Thursday that the fire had burned approximately 300 acres of land in total.

At 8:35 a.m., fourteen patients were evacuated from a local Kansas hospital due to the fire. Medicine Lodge Memorial Hospital sent 12 patients to a nursing home Wednesday night and the other two to a hospital close-by. Authorities say the blaze went around the Barber County town of about 2,000 residents, and plans are being made to return the patients to the facility Thursday. Hospital CEO Kevin White says that the evacuation was merely precautionary. He also described the smoke as very dense, so thick that it “completely obliterated the sun” at 5 p.m. Wednesday, an hour before the patients left. He said that the fire was “pretty scary.”

At 8:20 a.m., the wildfire restarted in Kansas county–where it was momentarily contained. Comanche County Emergency Management coordinator John Lehman says crews have been dispelled to combat the fire on Thursday. The blaze had been under control Wednesday night. Lehman says the blaze reignited when the strong winds blew the embers into the dry grass. He says that once embers hit dry grass, “away it goes.”

“The fire has burned about 37miles in the county after starting Tuesday near the Kansas border in Oklahoma, and has burned a further 280 square miles in neighboring Barber County.” Reports the Associated Press.

At 6:45 a.m., hundreds of firefighters battled the 30 to 40 mile line of fire in a rural Barber County in southern Kansas that has already lost 280 square miles of land to the wildfire. Kansas Incident Management Team spokeswoman Darcy Golliher said Thursday that it is unclear exactly how much land the fire has claimed. She says the Kansas State Highway Patrol will fly over Thursday afternoon to evaluate the damage. No one has been injured, but one home has been destroyed.

At 1:20 a.m., authorities reported a wildfire in south-central Kansas but has been contained. However, the fire still poses a substantial threat. Ben Bauman, director of public affairs for the Kansas Department of the Adjutant General, said in a statement early Thursday that “the fires in Comanche County are under control. Fires in adjacent Barber County have improved but are still being monitored.” Bauman says the fire encircled the town of Medicine Lodge, where authorities had said earlier that up to 1,000 structures were threatened. One home and outbuilding were destroyed in the far end of town. The fire started in an Oklahoma border county Tuesday and moved into Kansas. It has burned nearly 110 square miles. Gov. Sam Brownback declared a state of emergency for certain states, but said that many states should not follow suit.

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