Authorities estimate 625 square miles burned

Ponca City Now - March 24, 2016 9:43 am

KIOWA, Kan. (AP) – Authorities estimate that a wildfire has burned 625 square miles in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Preliminary estimates from the Oklahoma Forestry Services say about 220 square miles have burned in Oklahoma and 405 square miles in Kansas. The worst damage in Kansas is in Barber and Comanche counties, where the fire continues to burn Thursday.

Forestry Services spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker says crews are surveying the wildfire by aircraft Thursday morning and more concrete numbers will be available once that’s complete.

An emergency management official said earlier Thursday that the fire had burned more than 300 square miles in southern Kansas.

Fourteen patients have been evacuated from a small hospital in rural southern Kansas because of the wildfire.

Medicine Lodge Memorial Hospital sent 12 patients to a nursing home Wednesday night and the other two to a nearby hospital. Authorities say the blaze went around the Barber County town of about 2,000 residents, and plans are being made to return the patients to the facility Thursday.

Hospital CEO Kevin White describes the evacuation as precautionary.

He says the smoke was so thick that it "completely obliterated the sun" at 5 p.m. Wednesday, an hour before the patients left.

The hospital kept its emergency room open and treated one firefighter and one member of the public for smoke inhalation. He described what was happening as "pretty scary stuff."

Comanche County Emergency Management coordinator John Lehman said this morning that crews have been sent back out Thursday morning to resume the firefight. The blaze had been under control Wednesday night.

Lehman says the blaze reignited when winds blew embers onto unburned land. He says that once embers hit dry grass, "away it goes." He says crews are fighting a mile-long moving fire line.

The fire has claimed about 37 square miles in the county after starting Tuesday near the Kansas border in Oklahoma, and has burned a further 280 square miles in neighboring Barber County.


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