KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Emergency crews on Tuesday struggled to contain deadly wildfires that have scorched hundreds of square miles of land in four states and forced thousands of people to flee their homes ahead of the wind-whipped flames.
The fires were burning in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado, and warnings that fire conditions were ripe were issued for Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska, as powerful thunderstorms moved through the nation's midsection overnight, spawning dozens of tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service. The fires have killed at least three people.
In Kansas, wildfires have burned about 625 square miles of land, said Katie Horner, the spokeswoman for the state's Department of Emergency Management. She said the largest evacuations were in Reno County, where 10,000 to 12,000 people voluntarily left their homes Monday night. She said 66 people from the area were in shelters Tuesday in Hutchinson, which is 40 miles northwest of Wichita, as crews continued fighting fires that started over the weekend.
Fires were burning in eight Kansas counties Tuesday. The largest was in Clark County, where about 545 square miles has burned. More than 900 residents of two towns in the county were evacuated Monday afternoon as the fires that began in Oklahoma got closer. Horner said 30 structures have been damaged, and bridges have been compromised. The fire was 61 percent contained on Tuesday.
Several hundred more people evacuated their homes in Russell, Ellsworth and Comanche counties, which are in central Kansas.
The Kansas fires forced the closure of some roads, including two short stretches of Interstate 70 in the central part of the state. A stretch of a U.S. 54 in southern Kansas's Pratt County also was closed Monday because of smoke from a fire near a cotton gin and surrounding grassland.
In the Texas Panhandle, a pair of fires burned more than 195 square miles. One of the blazes near Amarillo threatened about 150 homes, while a larger fire in the northeast corner of the Panhandle near the Oklahoma border was only 5 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, according to Texas A&M Forest Service.
A wildfire in Gray County, which is also in the Texas Panhandle, killed three ranch hands who were trying to usher cattle away from the flames, said Judge Richard Peet, the county's head administrator. One of the three apparently died of smoke inhalation Monday night and the other two were badly burned and died on the way to hospitals, he said.
Forest Service spokesman Phillip Truitt said as many as four firefighters were hurt battling the fires Monday. He provided no details on their conditions Tuesday morning.
In Colorado, a fire in rural Logan County burned more than 45 square miles, forced the evacuation of three schools and threatened as many as 900 homes. The Logan County Emergency Management Office said at least four structures, including three homes, were destroyed.
More than 70 firefighters from 13 departments battled the blaze, which was reported east of Sterling on Monday morning. The fire, which was driven by wind gusts of nearly 50 mph, jumped Interstate 76 and spread into Phillips County.