TOPEKA — When Kansas Division of Emergency Management Deputy Director Angee Morgan told state legislators Thursday afternoon that 646,950 acres had been burned by wildfires, Rep. Tim Hodge, D-North Newton, did the math.
Translated into square miles and considering the size of Kansas, that meant more than 1 percent of the state had burned, Hodge said.
House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, presided over an ad hoc gathering of legislators representing areas affected by the wildfires from both the House and Senate.
They heard the numbers:
• Containment of fires in Clark County was 50 percent; Comanche County 70 percent; Reno County 85 percent; Rooks County 97 percent; Ellis County 98 percent.
• Mutual aid has been widespread. At the peak of the firefighting in Reno County, mutual aid meant 550 personnel and 277 pieces of equipment helping. There were 252 different jurisdictions assisting in the Reno County effort — that count includes the various cities, townships, and counties and other groups participating. The mutual aid network is “alive and well” in Kansas, Morgan said.
• At the state level, the expense has amounted to $1.2 million, but Morgan said that has not been a concern as the focus has been on fighting fires.
• The federal government approved seven requests from Kansas for fire management assistance grants. The seven areas generating the requests were: Reno County, Rooks County, Clark County, Ness County, Ford County area, Wilson Lake Complex and Comanche County.
The Kansas Livestock Association said donations of money are coming in to the Kansas Livestock Foundation, Calls are pouring in, too, to (785) 273-5115.
People are donating hay from as far away as Ohio.
Payment limitations in federal farm legislation are a concern, legislators heard. U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., and other lawmakers in Washington will be asked to help address that issue.
No overall count of the number of homes destroyed is currently available, according to Morgan.
Legislators are expected to prepare legislation that would provide a sales tax break for those replacing or repairing rural fencing. Additional help for homeowners could be included in the legislation.
Gov. Sam Brownback traveled to Clark County on Thursday and signed an executive order there waiving certain motor carrier regulations, including weight restrictions. It will ease the delivery of hay, feed, fencing materials and other relief supplies, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
While in Clark County, Brownback visited the local command center, toured the area and attended an Ashland High School pep rally.
Nick Schwien is managing editor at The Hays Daily News.