Winds expected to feed wildfires in Kansas, Oklahoma

Crews battling wildfires that scorched roughly 400,000 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma braced on Friday for wind gusts to resume, feeding a fire so big it shows on satellite images and its smoke has reached Kentucky.

Firefighters scrambled to get equipment in place ahead of what forecasters predicted would be a blustery evening with winds of up to 40 mph, said Michelle Finch, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Forestry Services.

“They’re using dozers to put in fire lines, using helicopters dropping water and planes dropping water and retardant,” Finch said. “The firefighters look out ahead and say, ‘Where can we stop this?'”

The fire started in Oklahoma on Tuesday and moved into Kansas, with strong winds on Wednesday making it eight times bigger, forcing voluntary evacuations in rural prairie towns that ended as winds died down on Thursday.

Still, by Friday the blaze was only 10 percent contained in Oklahoma and 15 percent in Kansas, Finch said.

“We are by no means out of the woods,” said Ben Bauman, spokesman for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

No injuries were reported and damage estimates were being tallied, with a handful of homes destroyed and cattle ranches damaged, Bauman said.

Media titan Ted Turner’s Z-Bar Ranch, a sprawling 42,000-acre property in southern Kansas that is home to bison, golden eagles, bobcats and other prairie wildlife, sustained considerable damage, ABC News reported.

“Once this event is over, we’re probably going to have significant property damage to infrastructure including train tracks, roadways and utility poles as well as loss of livestock, which is the livelihood of these farmers and ranchers,” Bauman said.

Finch said colleagues reported seeing smoke from the fire several states away in Kentucky.

The “burn scar” from the fire is so enormous that it is visible in weather satellite photographs posted to Facebook by Oklahoma Mesonet, a government weather site.

The cause of the fire was not yet known, authorities said.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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