The largest fire in Kansas history, known as the Anderson Creek fire, has been burning for a week now.
At the present time, the fire is reported at 95% total containment. The fire is 81% contained in Barber County, 90% contained in Comanche County, and 98% contained in Woods County, Oklahoma.
A total of 367,620 acres have been involved, most of which are in Kansas. Officials report that nine homes, numerous livestock, and countless miles of fencing have been devastated by the conflagration. No people have been killed or seriously injured.
So far the cause of the fire has not been officially reported.
Management of the fire will be transitioned from the state to the involved counties this week. A burn ban went into effect in Barber County on March 28 and will continue for a week from that date.
Barber County officials acknowledge that hot spots will have to be monitored for days, or even weeks to come.
The record-breaking wildfire started northwest of Alva, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, March 22, at around 5:30 PM. By the following morning, it had already crossed the state line into Kansas, consuming almost 48,000 acres along the way. The combination of heat, low humidity, and extremely gusty winds throughout the day provided the ideal conditions for rapid growth.
By the afternoon of Wednesday, March 23, the fire was dangerously close to Medicine Lodge. The hospital and the prison were evacuated, while the town residents were requested to voluntarily evacuate the town. Several buildings on the edge of Medicine Lodge were destroyed. Clouds of smoke rolled across much of the state with the help of extremely strong winds. The wall of smoke was reported as far as southern Nebraska. Governor Sam Brownback declared a state of emergency.
By 11:00 AM on March 24, the fire had burned over 350,000 acres across Kansas and Oklahoma. A lull in the wind enabled firefighters to bring the fire under partial control that afternoon, prompting Governor Brownback to tell the Associated Press, “Things really appear to be going pretty well so far today.”
Containment efforts continued on Friday the 25th, with firefighters patrolling the boundaries of the fire to prevent further spread.
On Saturday, four Black Hawk helicopters were brought to the scene to pour water onto the fire. Together, the helicopters dropped over 44,000 gallons onto hot spots and active flames. A fifth Black Hawk carried Governor Brownback over the scene of the disaster for an inspection.
Easter morning dawned with about three inches of snow on the ground in Barber County. The welcome weather event, known as the Easter Miracle, was received with heartfelt thanksgiving across the state, and beyond. However, Oklahoma Forestry Services cautioned those following the fire’s progress that the danger was not over—persistent hot spots in the brushy canyons of the Red Hills had the potential to flare up over the next few days due to dry, breezy weather. The Black Hawks returned to continue their work. Although temporarily hindered by the unauthorized presence of a drone, the helicopters, aided by crews on the ground, managed to bring the fire into 90% containment overall by evening.
Conditions remained largely the same on Monday the 28th. Damage assessments began, and more accurate mapping proved that the total acreage involved was less than previously believed. Reports will continue to trickle in from the counties involved.
2016 Wildfires to Date
The Anderson Creek fire was not the only wildfire that had to be faced over the course of the week. On March 23, another large grass fire started east of Hutchinson and quickly spread into western Harvey County, burning about 14,000 acres and causing evacuations across the area before being brought under control Thursday night. A smaller fire involving 1,000 acres straddled the Meade-Clark county line on March 25.
Conditions have been right for wildfires across portions of Kansas since the beginning of the year. The Kansas Forest Service has reported 15 wildfires between January 1 and March 17:
- February 15: 300 acres in Cowley County; reignited from a controlled burn the previous day.
- February 16: 20 acres and 2 homes in Cowley County; caused by a barbecue accident.
- February 17: 300 acres in Pottawatomie County; sparked by arcing power lines.
- February 17: 1,000 acres in Montgomery County; escaped from a burning wood pile during a red flag warning.
- February 17: 1,000 acres in Linn County; cause unknown.
- February 18: 1,000 acres in Hamilton County; escaped from a controlled burn.
- February 26: 200 acres in Marion County; lit by a passing train.
- February 26: 400 acres in Leavenworth County; escaped from a burning brush pile during a red flag warning.
- February 26: 1,000 acres in Lyon County; possible arson.
- February 26: 2,000 acres in Butler County; cause unknown.
- March 5: 25,000 acres in Cowley County; lit by a passing train.
- March 6: 1,200 acres in Marion County; cause unknown.
- March 11: 600 acres in Marion County; escaped from a controlled burn.
- March 17: 1,000 acres in McPherson County; cause unknown.
- March 17: 5,000 acres in Allen County; cause unknown.
Wildfires in Kansas
According to K-State, grassland fires start readily in Kansas when heavy rains are followed by a dry pattern. The rains promote the growth of lush vegetation, which then combines with dry heat and winds to provide a tinderbox situation. The smallest spark can become a raging inferno. Incidentally, however, the majority of Kansas wildfires do not occur during red flag conditions.
An estimated 110,000 acres burn yearly in Kansas on average, less than a third of the land involved in the Anderson Creek Fire. Many accidental grassland fires start in March, coinciding with the annual practice of controlled burning of pastures. However, trash fires and cigarette butts are frequently involved in the start of grassland fires.
In 2015, there were 6,954 fires reported across the state. Of these, the following ignition factors were the most common:
- Null or undetermined: 3,706.
- None: 970.
- Controlled burns: 338.
- High wind: 337.
- Open fire for debris/waste disposal: 331.
The top five heat sources for grassland fires in 2015 were:
- Undetermined: 2,378.
- Hot ember or ash: 901.
- Flying brands, embers, or sparks: 565.
- Heat spread from another fire: 380.
- Matches: 296.
But these facts do not begin to tell anything like the whole story of the Anderson Creek fire—the story of the faith, courage, endurance, generosity, and gratitude of the people involved.
Volunteer firefighters dropped everything to come to the rescue. Residents stood watch through the night over downed power lines to guard against accidents. People from across the country channeled prayers, words of encouragement, and fervent thanksgiving through social media. Anonymous truckers dropped off bales of hay for cattle. Ranchers offered greener pastures to those less fortunate. Plucky locals vowed to rebuild.
Our hats are off to the people affected by the Anderson Creek fire, and to those who helped to see them through. We share in your thanksgiving.
KFS Fire Blog
Where to go for the latest updates.
Fire News Blog
More updates from the Oklahoma side.
March 22nd–23rd Large Grass Fires
Satellite images and more photos from NOAA.
Early Morning Easter Snowfall in Kansas
Satellite images and photos of the Easter Miracle.
Find out more about wildfires in Kansas.