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K-State Today

March 25, 2016

Mitigation project switches gears to provide assistance in south central Kansas

Submitted by Jennifer G. Williams

Medicine Lodge, KS

As part of its 12th annual Hazardous Fuels Mitigation Project, the Kansas Forest Service fire staff began the week in Hutchinson, Kansas. The project's aim was to reduce fuels on public lands where adjacent life or property could be harmed in the event of a wildfire. At the start of the week, the mitigation team worked on decreasing accumulated brush that acts as fuel for wildfire in Sand Hills State Park, Dillon Nature Center and Prairie Dunes Country Club.

The plan for the week changed when a wildfire broke out in Woods County, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, March 22. Warm, dry air and extremely high winds pushed the Anderson Creek fire into Comanche and Barber counties in Kansas.

One of the resources the mitigation project has always offered to local fire departments during the mitigation event is assistance with management and response to wildfire. On Wednesday, March 23, Comanche County contacted mitigation personnel requesting assistance in management of the wildfire. The mitigation team is coordinating with the Oklahoma response on this incident.

Smoke and the sand and dust picked up by the winds in the burned areas has created visibility issues, according to the mitigation project's public information officer. Surveillance flights are being flown to learn accurate burned acreage.

Two residences in the Medicine Lodge area have been destroyed, as well as a number of outbuildings, the mitigation PIO reported. There have been no serious injuries and no fatalities. Containment and suppression efforts have begun along a line in east-central Barber County roughly delineated by U.S. Route 281.

Currently, two fire divisions are operating with fire resources and are being staffed by incoming mutual aid personnel. The fire structural division will continue to patrol in previously burned areas to identify any rekindles that could threaten residences and businesses.

The Anderson Creek wildfire is one of the largest in Kansas' history and has been designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a Fire Declaration Grant incident, making cost resources available for state and local operations. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has declared a state of emergency.

Firefighters from four states and 18 different agencies who are participating in the mitigation project are now in south central Kansas to assist in the suppression of this wildfire. Hutchinson Community College fire science students currently participating in the mitigation project have traveled with the mitigation team as part of their training. Their participation in this wildfire response will add invaluable experience and real-life situational skills to their training. The project's objectives will continue to focus on firefighter and public safety, while assisting local agencies.

Many of the project's goals in the Hutchinson area were accomplished during the first part of this week. Plans for the remainder of the mitigation project in Hutchinson will be suspended due to the critical need for resources at this incident.

The public information line is 620-930-0106, and you can contact the American Red Cross 620-770-1148 for donation or shelter information.

To view updates on this incident, check the Kansas Forest Service website as well as the Kansas Forest Service Facebook page and Barber County Sheriff's Office Facebook page. Check the Kansas Department of Transportation's website for road closures.