UPDATE: Damage Assessments Begin In Reno County Grassfire Areas
Editor's note: This post was updated Tuesday at 3:40 p.m.
Reno County officials are starting to assess the damage caused by a large grassfire that has burned more than 6,000 acres since Saturday.
The Highland fire was mostly contained Monday but rekindled after a day of high winds and dry conditions. As of noon Tuesday, the fire continued to burn, and people who were evacuated were not yet allowed back to their homes.
Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson says that during a preliminary survey of the area north of Hutchinson, they found seven homes destroyed.
The Kansas Division of Emergency Managment has reported that at least 30 homes were destroyed, and more may be damaged.
Hutchinson Interim Fire Chief Doug Hanen says the fire has burned an area seven miles long and about a half-mile wide. He says fire investigators have been unable to get into the area to assess damages due to the fire.
A fly-over is planned today with a Hutchinson firefighter and the Kansas Highway Patrol to get a more accurate picture of the damage.
Four National Guard helicopters dropped water on the fire for a second day.
Jason Hartman with the Kansas Forest Service said at a briefing that teams from neighboring states joined the firefight with aerial water tankers.
"The aviation assets can come in and provide a lot of water in a concentrated space in a short amount of time to get that quick [fire] knockdown and also to reach places that can’t be reached otherwise," Hartman said.
More than 230 responders from 116 agencies have been working on the fire Tuesday.
The Kansas Division of Emergency Management (KDEM) says about 12,000 residents of Hutchinson were voluntarily evacuated Monday night due to fire risk. A shelter at the Kansas State Fairgrounds remains open.
KDEM says 98 percent of Kansas counties are under extreme fire danger conditions. Fires were also burning in Clark, Ellis, Ellsworth, Hodgeman, Lincoln, Rooks, and Russell counties as of Tuesday. Fires in Clark County have destroyed more than 351,000 acres of land. An estimated 10,240 acres have burned in Rooks County.
Gov. Sam Brownback visited KDEM's emergency operations center in Topeka Tuesday. He says more resources and mutual aid are coming into place to help fight the fires.
The National Weather Service says extreme fire danger conditions are expected to continue the next few days in south-central Kansas. Wind speeds the past few days were in the 40- to 50-mile-per-hour range.
Harvey County has issued a burn ban until March 13, when it will be reevaluated.
-- Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.
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