Severe weather conditions led to wildfires across Kansas

The first half of December 2021 has left the country reeling from the loss of life and damage caused by natural disasters, from the tornadoes that barreled through Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi and Illinois on Dec. 10 to sustained wind speeds of up to 100 miles per hour in some areas and tornadic activity raging across Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Colorado on Dec. 15. Intense wildfires were a worrisome consequence of the latter, with fires breaking out across several states.

A fire known as the Four County Fire in Russell, Osborne, Rooks and Ellis counties saw the worst fire damage in Kansas. The Kansas Forest Service reported the fire encompassed 365,850 acres and smoke could be seen and smelled across the entire state. The KFS has estimated 400,000 acres have been damaged during Wednesday’s fires.

Although high winds led to the fires, dry conditions were a large mitigating factor. Although the destruction is still being assessed, cattle, hay and structures—including at least a dozen homes—are among the collateral damage. Several individuals were also hospitalized due to the wildfires. The high winds caused several traffic accidents in Kansas, leading to three fatalities. Additionally, outages plagued the state with nearly 200,000 on Wednesday. Clean-up is currently underway and linemen are working to restore power to customers that are still in the dark.

“Much of Kansas is recovering from yesterday’s storms and wildland fires,” said Mark Neely with the Kansas Forest Service. “The Kansas Forest Service is working with state and local partners to get fires under control and mopped up so that we can return to normal conditions.”

Agriculture impact

Agriculture losses are largely unknown at this time, but livestock deaths are expected to be abundant, along with fencing, equipment and feed. One Ellis County rancher, who lost a home and multiple pastures, said he lost 20 to 30 miles of fence and several cows in the fires.

“Our neighbors suffered a lot bigger losses though,” he said. “We have been blessed because we haven’t had that many livestock losses. Where our cattle were, we were feeding silage and growing rations, so the grass was really short there. Many of our neighbors had winter pastures with terrible losses.”

The rancher said the winds were so extreme, his son’s pickup’s powder-coated front bumper was sand blasted down to the metal and several of the vehicle’s windows were broken just trying to escape the wind and flames.

“Thankfully, no one I know died,” he said. “It’s a miracle God had his hand in this and it’s nice to see neighbors come together and help each other. You quickly realize what’s eternal, because all the material stuff is gone in an instant. There was no saving anything. We need continued prayers because some people lost everything.”

The Kansas Livestock Association is organizing donations to victims of the fires, by providing funding, feed, hay and supplies to ranchers. Cash donations can be made through the Kansas Livestock Foundation. If you are in need of supplies or would like to make an in-kind donation, call KLA at 785-273-5115.

Heartland Regional Stockyards in Plainville, Kansas, is also serving as a collection and distribution point for hay and supplies. To donate, contact the auction market at 785-688-4080. A supply donation drop-off site has also been established in southwestern Lane County at 3 E Rd 120, Dighton, Kansas. To coordinate a drop-off, call Erik Steffens at 620-397-1687.

Lacey Vilhauer can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].