It was an eerie scene Wednesday morning. Near the intersection of Codell Avenue and Severin Road in northeast Ellis County, scorched land is all that could be seen for miles.
Sporadic billows of white smoke still were visible, as well as an occasional county fire truck and Kansas National Guard Black Hawk helicopter as crews continued to keep a watchful eye on lingering hot spots.
It’s obvious how close Tuesday afternoon’s wildfire came to several farmsteads. Near 310th Avenue, a white home stood seemingly undamaged — a stark contrast to the charred, black earth that surrounded it on all sides.
Down the road, a herd of cattle could be found in its pasture, huddled onto the few remaining patches of grass. A large amount of pasture was burned in the grass fire that originated near Toulon Avenue and Homestead Road, then quickly spread approximately 8 miles to the south. The fire burned an area approximately 2 miles wide.
Quick action from nearly 100 area firefighters — who were faced with wind gusts in excess of 40 mph, reduced visibility and rugged terrain — saved all of the homes and cattle in the affected region, said Darin Myers, Ellis County fire chief and emergency management coordinator.
“There were no residential structures lost, to my knowledge,” Myers said Wednesday. “There were no cattle or any animals that were lost. We were able to move them from pasture to pasture.”
Two firefighters were being treated for smoke inhalation as of Wednesday afternoon, Myers said.
Crews worked overnight Tuesday keeping an eye on both fires reported near Hays, with an earlier incident reported near Interstate 70 and Commerce Parkway. The last firefighters left the scene Wednesday afternoon.
Landowners in the area and other concerned residents with farm equipment rushed in to help evacuate people and livestock out of harm’s way, he said.
A local group of animal lovers also is working to collect animal supplies and labor donations to help farmers and ranchers affected by Tuesday’s fire. The group can be contacted via a Facebook group, “Hays and Surrounding Areas Pets Lost & Found.”
Those who were affected by the fire and could benefit from assistance — and those willing to donate supplies or labor — are encouraged to contact the group of local residents on social media. The group is not collecting monetary donations.
Members of the group, which was started by Hays resident Lisa Chrisler-VanHorn, also rounded up some horses that had escaped their pasture in the fire, said group member Corina Knoll of Collyer.
“I can’t imagine what they’re feeling like right now,” Knoll said of those who lost animal enclosures, pasture land or feed.
Many in the Hays area were quick to show support to local firefighters, offering whatever they could to express appreciation.
A few local eateries, including the Golden Q, 809 Ash, offered free lunch Wednesday to any firefighters involved in battling Tuesday’s blaze.
"We have a lot of firefighters that come in for lunch every single week and are great customers," said Markus Hilger, general manager of the Golden Q. "So this is the least we could do to support them when they have to go out in that danger."
After receiving many offers for food and water, Ellis County opened its emergency management building on 22nd Street for donations — and staff were quickly overwhelmed by the response, Myers said. An office staff member was asked to organize donations as they came in.
“She told me we had a lot and I would be surprised,” Myers said. “When I came back in this morning at 6 a.m. to check it out and change my clothes real quick, there was piles and piles of water and Gatorade, and bag after bag of food. It was great.”
Other residents and local businesses rushed into the fire scene Tuesday providing much-needed water to refill fire engine tanks.
“That was a blessing getting that around,” he said. “We never had to worry about running out of water. I think the last one probably left about 11 p.m.
“That’s what’s great about a small-town community.”
Russell residents also offered support, with the Russell County Health Department collecting donations to benefit regional firefighters.
Crews responded from Russell, Rooks and Trego counties, as well as county and state law enforcement, EMS, Ellis County Public Works and the Kansas Forestry Service.
“It shows a lot to the county firefighters who come together as one team and work in conditions like that, with 50 mph winds and multiple fire lines, trying to stay on top of it and staying aggressive and getting it under control,” Myers said. “We had a lot of help that made that happen.”