WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Butler County firefighters are continuing to monitor hot spots after dealing with a large, fast-moving grass fire northwest of El Dorado that caused evacuations, road closures, and a crash on Friday.
“This has been an aggressive fire, so we were equally aggressive,” said Lieutenant Cody Spear with El Dorado fire. “With a fire this large and this many houses, and it was in a residential area as far as rural/urban interface. We had lots of houses being impinged on early on, so those grass fire units can’t get out in the field and put the grass fires out. They have to go to these houses and wait for the fire to roll up on there, so that was a big struggle in the beginning.”
Spear said roughly 2,000 acres burned on Friday afternoon.
“I don’t think we would have had the result we did today with the stoppage,” said Spear. “I think today we had close to ten to 12 departments come respond within the first five to ten minutes.”
Circle schools and Oil Hill school on the northwest corner of El Dorado were evacuated out of an abundance of caution.
“Well, when we looked out the windows, you could see flames,” said Jonna Garbee, who works at the school. “So it was ‘Go! Now!’ And the building smelled like about as bad as it does outside here. So we wanted to get the kids out, just in case.”
“You know the kids were great today,” said Garbee. “A few of them were scared, but for the most part, it was kind of an adventure.”
Kids were taken to Circle High School, where parents picked up the kids in a safe spot far from the wildfire danger.
The fire started near Northwest 10th and Kansas Highway 196. Butler County dispatchers say that at least one structure caught on fire.
Early in the afternoon, Butler County Emergency Management asked people who live west of Haverhill Road and north of Central (Kansas Highway 254) to evacuate to safety.
The American Red Cross set up an evacuation shelter at the 4-H building at 206 N. Griffith Street in El Dorado. It provided water and snacks to about two dozen people before they closed the shelter following the lift of the evacuation order.
The Red Cross said it will work with local officials throughout the grassfire to assess the community’s needs.
If you were affected by the fires, you can reach out to the Red Cross at 1-800-RED-CROSS 24 hours a day.
Butler County dispatchers will issue Reverse 911 notifications as necessary to residents impacted by the fire.
Dispatchers also said a pipeline near 6th Avenue and Southwest Boyer in El Dorado is no longer leaking. It was in the area that people had evacuated from and was not considered a threat.
Circle Oil Hill Road Elementary was evacuated earlier in the afternoon. The students were bused to Circle High School, where parents could pick them up.
As stated before, officials lifted the evacuation order at 4:45 p.m. on Friday. There is still some fire in the area, but residents are allowed to return home.
Officials say there is a lot of smoke in the area and advise people to drive carefully.
Butler County dispatchers said two trucks crashed in the smoke, leaving two people with potentially critical injuries. This was at Kansas Highway 196 and Parallel Road.
A five-mile stretch of the Kansas Turnpike, from Exit 71 to Exit 76, was closed due to the smoke. But KDOT reopened it around 3:30 p.m.
KDOT also closed K-196 from K-254 north to 10th Street. It was reopened just after 5 p.m.
The Kansas Forest Service used Tanker 95 to make three water drops over the grassfire. But the plane has landed until the wind conditions improve.
Declaration of disaster emergency
Earlier Friday, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued a “declaration of disaster emergency” due to the potential for wildfires across the state. The strong wind and dry conditions are a dangerous combination.
“Weather conditions are such that a high risk exists for wildland fires,” Governor Kelly said. “I urge all Kansans to be alert and use extreme caution when using their outdoor grills and other open fires. It’s better to avoid these things, if possible. A single spark is enough to touch off a fire that could have devastating consequences.”
According to the City of El Dorado, there was one inhabited home that sustained structural damage, although it was not a total loss.
The City says there also were five shed-type buildings that sustained major fire damage, if not considered a total loss.