Wednesday, March 15, 2017

KDOT crews assisted firefighting efforts

More than a week has passed since the record-breaking wildfires burned over 1,000 square miles of the state. The flames, which were fueled by an abundance of grass, low humidity and strong winds, devastated lives and left some parts of Kansas looking like a barren wasteland.  Governor Sam Brownback has made a disaster declaration for 20 counties in Kansas.

One person was killed and 11 were injured as a result of these fires. The blazes destroyed at least 40 homes and countless livestock.
Last Monday, when the wildfires appeared to be the most numerous, 21 counties were reporting some form of fire event.

KDOT crews in several areas answered the call to assist the firefighters who stood on the front lines against these out-of-control flames.

In Northwest Kansas, Josh Hudson, the Supervisor at the Stockton Sub-Area, worked with his crew to help control traffic on Monday and Tuesday in Rooks County.  They were also able to help fight the flames along U.S. 183 south of Stockton.

U.S. 183 south of Stockton was among the many places affected by the wildfires in Kansas last week. 

KDOT crews were able to assist Firefighters in Rooks county. 

“Senior Equipment Operator, Chad Boyle and I worked with the fire departments and assisted on the fire trucks fighting the fire,” Hudson said. “It was a very long day."

“We had the loader and motor grader south of town making fire breaks to stop the fire from going any farther,” Hudson said.  “We had a truck with water being used.”

The large flames and smoky conditions proved to be a challenge for everyone involved.

Smoky conditions limited visibility and made fighting the flames difficult.

“The smoke made it impossible to see anything on U.S. 183 between town and the top of the hill south of Stockton,” Hudson said.  “There were flames taller than the motor grader burning the right of way.”

On Wednesday, the National Guard out of Salina provided 26 air drops with 660 gallons of water per drop to extinguish areas that they were not able to reach.

The Kansas National Guard out of Salina provided relief with 26 air drops to help extinguish the flames. 

“It was nice to see all the communities and government agencies work together to get this fire under control,” Hudson said.

Farther south, Clark County was hit hardest by the fires, with more than 500,000 acres of land devastated by the flames. One of the state’s smallest communities, Englewood, was severely affected, with at least 12 homes destroyed. 

A damaged sign rests on the charred ground in Clark County. 

Area Superintendent Galen Ludlow said that KDOT crews in the area mostly assisted with traffic control and closing routes where the smoke and fire burned the roadways.

“I was in contact with all my personnel in Ness, Hodgeman, Ford, Clark and Gray counties to get the crews in position to detour traffic,” Ludlow said. “We had to close the highways at the state line going both ways, so I was in contact with Oklahoma to stop traffic going into Oklahoma and vice versa coming into Kansas.”

The flames that destroyed more than 500,000 acres of land in Clark County also affected Kansas roads. Note the coloration change of this highway where the heat from the flames burned the asphalt. 

Ludlow said this was the first time he had ever been involved with a fire of that size and scale. 

“We started with the fire here in Dodge City at approximately 1 p.m.,” Ludlow said. “We received a call from the KHP and Ford County communications that they were requiring traffic assistance. It was a pretty big fire that was burning around the four-way stop at the U.S. 283 and U.S. 56/400 Junction on the south end of Dodge City.”

Ludlow said that the fire in Clark County had caused a great deal of damage to a lot of KDOT’s inventory such as signs and guardrails.

“620 of our guardrail systems were burned in Clark County,” Ludlow said. 

One of many damaged guardrail systems in Clark County. 

One of many damaged guardrail systems in Clark County. 

Ludlow said that it could take several months to clean up and rebuild.

“For us it will entail going out and replacing what was burned,” Ludlow said. “The locals will have lots of cleanup from buildings that have burned up. We are still in the process of deciding how we are going to handle the guardrail situation. It’s such a large scale that it could take an estimated several months to complete.”

Another damaged highway sign after it was burned by the flames. 

Zach Oswald, the Public Affairs Manager in Southcentral Kansas said that KDOT also assisted with traffic during the Reno County fires last week.

“KDOT crews were actively involved in flagging and redirecting traffic along alternative routes,” Oswald said.

“As of Friday, the burned area along K-61 extended along the west side from 56th Street to roughly Tobacco Road,” Oswald said. “The fire didn’t cross south of 56th Avenue.”

KDOT Right of Way burned from the Reno County wildfire. 

Oswald said that the closed section of K-61 was used as a fire block to prevent the fires from spreading east of K-61.

“The highway remained closed until the fires had been contained and was safe for public use.”

KDOT would like to thank all who risked their lives to help fight the fires that devastated parts of the state last week. 

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