By Patty Moore
Hiawatha World – March 31, 2016
Luke Pollock, Powhattan (second from left), and Adam Rogers of Horton (by truck) and their firefighting crew take a break from the fire line near Medicine lodge, where they battled the Anderson Creek Wildfire in South Central Kansas.
Wally Leander Jr. of Hiawatha (second from left) and Ross Hauck (foreground) of Kansas Forestry Service worked on logistics team to keep personnel and supplies moving to the fire lines of the Anderson Creek Wildfire in South West Kansas. Leander is with the Bureau of Indian Affairs-Horton, and left his work with a training program at Hutchinson to help bring the huge burn under control.
Five residents of Brown County and one from Jackson County were in the right place at a bad time, and found themselves going to blazes. They went from training students in firefighting to walking the lines at the massive wildfire that roared into South Central Kansas from Oklahoma last week.
The six who work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs-Horton Agency left Horton for Hutchinson Community College May 20 to help conduct the 2016 Mitigation Project, an annual multi-agency firefighting training session for students in the college’s Fire Science Program.
The session was well underway on March 22, when the wildfire that began in the Anderson Creek area of Wood County, Oklahoma, roared across the border into the Kansas counties of Barber and Comanche. The Kansas Forestry Service set up firefighting operations in Barber County, which is just one county away from Reno County and Hutchinson.
The mentors, trainers and support staff of the training session, most of whom are experienced in firefighting, were dispatched on May 23 to Medicine Lodge in Barber County. The 38 students volunteered to go on line for “the real thing.”
Those from the BIA-Horton Agency who joined in fighting the Anderson Creek Wildfire:
* Adam Rogers of Horton was in the field as an Operations Division Supervisor, overseeing crews and engine groups on the fire lines.
* Luke Pollock of Powhattan and James “Taps” Simon of Horton were squad bosses on the fire lines, overseeing crews made up of the Fire Science students from the college.
* Wally Leander Jr. of Hiawatha worked out of Heritage Center in Medicine Lodge on logistics,helping to keep personnel and supplies routed to hot spot areas as needed.
* Shannon Scott of Everest worked with the public information group, assisting in the Barber County Sheriff’s Office with dispatch and transferring phone calls for fire personnel to Operations at the Command Center, and accompanying media crews to fire lines, and assisting with news conferences. News crews from as far away as The New York Times were in Medicine Lodge, and phone inquiries came from media as far away as France.
* Denise Lundin of Mayetta worked on finance, assisting Kansas Forestry Service personnel and other agencies in keeping paperwork and funding moving.
“The drive from Hutchinson was surreal,” Scott said, “with heavy smoke encountered at the town of Cunningham, the city of Pratt dark at mid-day, and Medicine Lodge seen in a dark, dirty orange.”
She added that the air was heavy with soot, ash, dirt and sand, making eyes, mouths and surfaces gritty, and in three days of heavy winds at various times from all four directions (some gusts up to 60 mph or more), the flames also changed direction repeatedly.
Smoke from the fire drifted as far away as Kentucky.
“The fire roared through Barber and Comanche counties in towering walls and at frightening speeds,” Scott said, adding that in most cases, the Horton crew didn’t see one another until they were dispatched to return home Saturday, when the fire neared 90 percent containment.
Kansas National Guard Black Hawk helicopters dumped thousands of gallons of water on the flames. When several drones were spotted flying over the burn area, hampering control efforts, a flight restriction was put in place until sunset on Sunday, making it a federal offense to put “non-fire air traffic … within the (burn) area.”
Snow on Sunday helped bring the blaze under 90 percent control by that evening, according to Barber County officials. Crews continued on the lines throughout this week.
The First Christian Church in Medicine Lodge cancelled the Easter Pageant and converted its auditorium into a feeding center for the firefighters, many of whom, including most of those from the Horton Agency, spent nights there on cots. Scott bunked in the basement of the Barber County Sheriff’s Office.
There were no deaths or injuries at last report, but 12 homes had been destroyed by the fire, along with heavy losses of livestock, pastures, outbuildings, equipment, pets, fences, bridges and train trestles. However, the hundreds of firefighters who fought the blaze prevented what could have been huge additional losses.
Help is pouring in for those who sustained heavy losses, including feed for livestock and other recovery efforts. Losses will have long-lasting effects, and multi-million dollar costs,with Barber County hit hardest. The fire is the largest in recorded Kansas history and one of the largest in the U.S., with the burn scar visible in photos from weather satellites out in space.
Posted by Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster