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UPDATE: Authorities Estimate 625 Square Miles Burned

Sean Sandefur

A massive wildfire has burned through more than 625 square miles in Oklahoma and Kansas, forcing Governor Sam Brownback to issue a state of disaster emergency.

Hundreds of firefighters were dispatched to areas of southern Kansas to try and contain a wildfire. Government officials say the worst of it is over, with fire crews from Wichita heading home just after 7 in the morning.

Credit Sean Sandefur / KMUW

There are reports of structural damage here in Medicine Lodge, as well as in Reno County.

The fire originated in Oklahoma, just so south of the Kansas border. Extreme winds and dry conditions helped spread the flames well into Kansas, causing local officials to evacuate the small town of Sun City for a short time.

Red Cross volunteers have set up emergency shelters in Pratt and Harper.

A media briefing is being held in Medicine Lodge at 11 o’clock KMUW's Sean Sandefur will have updates from that briefing.

Updates From the AP:

Thursday March 24, 8:50 a.m.

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.

Thursday March 24, 8:35 a.m.

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

Thursday March 24, 8:20 a.m.

A wildfire has reignited in a Kansas county where it was briefly brought under control.

Comanche County Emergency Management coordinator John Lehman says 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 unburnt 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.


Credit Tracey Weaver / Twitter
The view of the smoke from Cessna.

A wildfire that is still out of control has burned through more than 72,000 acres in Oklahoma and Kansas. So far, no injuries or property damage have been reported.

The fire originated in Woods County, Oklahoma, just south of the Kansas border. Extreme winds and dry conditions helped spread the flames and smoke well into Kansas, causing numerous counties to declare states of emergency.

Government officials evacuated the small town of Sun City, Kansas for a short time.

Barber County Attorney Gayton Wood says south central Kansas has seen fires like this in the past.

“We have experienced similar fires of this magnitude, about 5-6 years ago," Wood says. "And then we had a very large fire in 1995.”

Woods describes smoke and embers rolling through Medicine Lodge, Kansas on Wednesday, before strong winds eventually swept the fire to the northeast.

He says dozens of fire trucks were deployed to the region to help contain the fire, and that Red Cross volunteers have mobilized in the event of more evacuations.

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