Climate

Largest Wildfire In State History Ravages Kansas

CREDIT: Kansas Forest Service

Aerial view of the Kansas wildfire that so far has burned some 400,000 acres. Two residences, as well as a number of outbuildings were destroyed, too, but there have been no serious injuries or fatalities.

Much progress has been made thanks to a cold front, and now after a week of burning, the largest wildfire in Kansas history could end Sunday.

The Anderson Creek wildfire that’s burned through nearly 400,000 acres in two states since Tuesday is likely to be fully out soon, according to published reports, as snow fell on Kansas Sunday.

On Saturday, four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the Kansas National Guard were deployed to contain the prairie blazes that have burned at least 620 square miles in southern Kansas and Oklahoma, where it originated, the Associated Press reported. Smoke was reportedly detected as far away as St. Louis, Missouri — hundreds of miles to the northeast — as at least four homes and livestock were affected, according to Kansas officials. No serious human injuries or fatalities have been reported.

Still Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a State of Disaster Emergency declaration for at least five Kansas counties. Brownback said Thursday that the fire was largely contained in Kansas except in Barber County, southwest of Wichita, the state’s largest city. “Things really appear to be going pretty well so far today,” he told the Associated Press. The Barber County fire is about 31 percent contained, according to authorities. Meanwhile, smaller fires were reported in Clark, Meade, Harvey and Reno counties, The Wichita Eagle reported Saturday.

Kansas has been suffering from abnormal weather in recent years. And while some recent reports note that Kansas won’t be as affected by climate change as other states, recent temperatures have been unusually warm, making the region suceptible to wildfires.

On average, the Forest Service spends about $1.3 billion on fire suppression, but that cost has been steadily rising in recent years. Last year, for the first time ever, more than half of the Forest Service’s budget was dedicated to fire, meaning that other, non-fire programs — like watershed management or road maintenance — have seen their budgets decline. This means that programs like forest management, which can help reduce the risk of wildfires, are suffering as wildfire suppression costs continue to increase. Moreover, burning through over 9.8 million acres — an area roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined —, last year’s wildfire season was one of the worst on record with Alaska, Oregon, and California experiencing intense wildfires.