Wildfire coverage becomes the norm 

The burn scar on the Clark County, Kansas landscape following the 2017 Starbuck Fire. (Journal photo by Tracy Shinogle.)

Wildfires are not uncommon to Kansas or surrounding states. History says the Native Americans burned the prairies of the High Plains to improve the grasslands. However, in recent history three major wildfires have permanently changed the landscape of Kansas, and those affected by it.  

Journal editors have covered a number of wildfires affecting farmers and ranchers across the High Plains. Most recently, fires in 2016 with the Anderson Creek Fire, 2017’s Starbuck fire and the 2021 outbreak in Ellis, Russell, Osborne and Rooks counties prompted extensive coverage of the devastation and recovery efforts. 2024 coverage is aimed at the Smokehouse Creek Fire in the Texas Panhandle. 

The March 2017 Starbuck Fire burned 463,887 acres in Kansas—primarily in Clark County, but also impacted Meade and Comanche counties, according to the Kansas Forest Service. High fuel loads, terrain and weather conditions made access to the fire difficult and weather conditions resulted in several communities being threatened. Property damage estimates were more than $44 million.  

Watch Video Coverage of Senator Pat Roberts plea to the nation

The local National Resources Conservation Service office received approximately $18 million to help build 1,600 miles of fence in Clark County alone. The November 2023 Kansas Wildfire Task Force report called the Starbuck Fire the largest fire recorded in Kansas history. 

The March 2016 Anderson Creek Fire totaled 300,000 acres in Comanche and Barber counties, burning primarily grass and timber. Multiple communities and structures were threatened. A very large wind event pushed fires across Ellis, Russell, Osborne and Rooks counties in December 2021 outbreak. According to the KFS, the extreme fire behavior in predominately grass fuel type threatened hundreds of homes and posed a major threat to ranches, fences and livestock. 

Unfortunately, this was not the only wildfire threat faced that day. It’s been reported a total of 54 wildfires occurred on Dec. 15, with ignitions in 34 counties spread from Greeley and Wichita counties in the west to Leavenworth and Cherokee counties in the east. 

More commemorative content information is available at hpj.com. 

Watch or read Senator Pat Roberts address to the senate about the Kansas Wildfires.

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].