The Latest: Winds frustrate wildfire containment in Oklahoma

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2016 3:11 PM
The Latest: Winds frustrate wildfire containment in Oklahoma

KIOWA, Kan. (AP) — The latest on wildfires burning across parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas (all times local):

2:10 p.m.

Strong winds have thwarted efforts to contain a wildfire that has burned 620 square miles of rural land in Oklahoma and Kansas, and it's now approaching populated areas.

Oklahoma Forestry Services spokesman Mark Goeller said Thursday that strong winds shifted the direction of the fire late Wednesday and overwhelmed existing containment lines.

Officials are now monitoring a part of the blaze 5 miles away from Alva, Oklahoma, where about 5,000 people live. No mandatory evacuations have been issued in Oklahoma, though Goeller says officials are forming contingency evacuation plans as crews work to slow the fire's spread.

Goeller says wind conditions and humidity are expected to improve throughout the day, making progress on containment more likely.

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1:05 p.m.

Grass fires burning several counties northeast of a massive two-state blaze have forced evacuations and destroyed a home.

The Harvey County sheriff's office said in a news release Thursday that dozens of firefighters are battling two blazes northwest of the town of Burrton. One home was lost Wednesday night, but the owner wasn't home.

The sheriff's office says multiple outbuildings have burned and livestock also have been killed.

The office says two firefighters were treated and released Wednesday evening for eye irritation from blowing ash and smoke. No other injuries have been reported.

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.

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11:35 a.m.

Smoke from the wildfires burning in Oklahoma and Kansas has traveled hundreds of miles.

The National Weather Service says the smoke has been detected as far away as Springfield, Missouri, about 290 miles to the east, and in St. Louis, about 460 miles to the northeast of the fires.

Springfield meteorologist Mark Burchfield says the smell of smoke was "pretty strong" as he was leaving for work Thursday morning.

St. Louis meteorologist Mark Britt says the weather service posted on social media advising of the smoke.

The strong winds that are blowing the smoke also are complicating efforts to fight the fires that have consumed more than 600 square miles of largely rural land along the Kansas-Oklahoma border since Wednesday.

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10:45 a.m.

Authorities say wildfires have burned about 85 square miles of grassland in the Texas Panhandle.

No one has been hurt in the fires that began Wednesday. They are partially contained Thursday.

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 says some people were evacuated Wednesday from their homes in Skellytown, about 45 miles northeast of Amarillo, but were allowed to return after a few hours.

A smaller fire has burned about 15 square miles of grassland in Wheeler County.

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10:20 a.m.

Another grass fire has started burning in Kansas, several counties northeast of a massive two-state blaze.

The Harvey County sheriff's office says on Facebook that multiple homes have been evacuated as crews fight the blaze. A shelter for displaced residents has been established at a high school.

The post says several small structures have been damaged but that no injuries have been reported.

A sheriff's department official wasn't able to immediately comment on the size of the Harvey County 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.

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8:50 a.m.

Authorities estimate that a wildfire has burned 625 square miles in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Preliminary estimates from the Oklahoma Forestry Services say about 220 square miles have burned in Oklahoma and 405 square miles in Kansas. The worst damage in Kansas is in Barber and Comanche counties, where the fire continues to burn Thursday.

Forestry Services spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker says crews are surveying the wildfire by aircraft Thursday morning and more concrete numbers will be available once that's complete.

An emergency management official said earlier Thursday that the fire had burned more than 300 square miles in southern Kansas.

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8:35 a.m.

Fourteen patients have been evacuated from a small hospital in rural southern Kansas because of a wildfire.

Medicine Lodge Memorial Hospital sent 12 patients to a nursing home Wednesday night and the other two to a nearby hospital. 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 describes the evacuation as precautionary.

He says the smoke was so thick that it "completely obliterated the sun" at 5 p.m. Wednesday, an hour before the patients left.

The hospital kept its emergency room open and treated one firefighter and one member of the public for smoke inhalation. He described what was happening as "pretty scary stuff."

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8:20 a.m.

A wildfire has reignited in a Kansas county where it was briefly brought under control.

Comanche County Emergency Management coordinator John Lehman says crews have been sent back out Thursday morning to resume the firefight. The blaze had been under control Wednesday night.

Lehman says the blaze reignited when winds blew embers onto unburnt land. He says that once embers hit dry grass, "away it goes." He says crews are fighting a mile-long moving fire line.

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

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6:45 a.m.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling a 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 she doesn't know how much land has burned in neighboring Comanche County, where the fire is now under control, nor in nearby Oklahoma, where the blaze started Tuesday.

She says the Kansas State Highway Patrol will fly over Thursday afternoon to evaluate the damage.

No one is hurt, but one home has burned.

Strong winds have complicated the firefight. The National Weather Service says 25 mph winds are forecast in the area until noon, when they are expected to drop to 15 mph. Gusts of 45 to 50 mph were reported Wednesday.

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1:20 a.m.

Authorities say a wildfire in south-central Kansas still poses a threat but that conditions are improving in the two counties most affected.

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 went around the town of Medicine Lodge, where authorities had said earlier that up to 1,000 structures were threatened. One home and outbuilding were destroyed on the outskirts 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 has declared a state of disaster emergency for some areas, authorizing state resources to assist.