On Monday March 6, 2017 at 11:33 a.m., Clark County, Kan. first responders got a call to assist with a wildfire in Oklahoma. The fire quickly spread to the southwestern corner of the county, near Englewood, at speeds close to 60 mph.
On March 10, the Kansas Division of Emergency Management held an information brief that was published on Facebook. John Ketron, Clark County sheriff, reported there were more than 40 jurisdictions helping the county, including units from Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Oklahoma and 38 counties within Kansas.
Ketron said there was one fire-related fatality from smoke inhalation and roughly 50 structures were burned. He said at the very least, 20 houses were destroyed by the fire, but he has a feeling there’s going to be more. He assessed the damages including livestock and fencing at “tens of millions of dollars.”
Chuck McKinney, Clark County commissioner, said the livestock losses were “tremendous,” estimating the losses between 3,000 and 9,000, not specifying on species. He believes the grassland losses are roughly 500,000 acres. Recovery time, he predicts, will take five years or more.
“It’s going to take that long to build the fences back,” said McKinney.
The fire will also have a local economic effect on all of Clark County. McKinney said the county has deep connections to farming and ranching, and most ranchers didn’t carry insurance on cattle.
“We’re all going to suffer,” he said.
He chose the information brief as a call to action from the federal government, saying they can make an immediate impact by either increasing or removing the cap on assistance through the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP).
“There’s no way to prepare for something like this,” said Kendal Kay, mayor of Ashland, Kan.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., took to the podium after appearing on AgriTalk, saying Vice President Mike Pence is well-aware of the situation that’s impacted so many farmers and ranchers alike.
“We were going through the worst prairie fire in the United States, on nonfederal land, in our history,” said Roberts. “This is truly a disaster.”
Roberts cited Kansas's state motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera (To the Stars Through Difficulty), saying Kansans will persevere through this tragedy.
On the Kansas Division of Emergency Management Facebook page, there is information on the Disaster Distress Helpline, a hotline providing crisis counseling for those experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor, toll free.