‘It’s nonstoppable’: Wildfires lead to evacuations, I-70 closing

A wildfire that swept out of control in southwest Kansas on Monday afternoon caused the evacuation of two Clark County communities.

The 76 residents of the small rural town of Englewood were ordered to leave at 3:25 p.m. Monday.

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Twenty minutes later, Ashland’s 850 residents were ordered to leave their homes.

“This fire started in Oklahoma and came across the border in southwest Clark County,” said Millie Fudge, Clark County Emergency Preparedness coordinator. “It’s nonstoppable. All we are doing is protecting houses. That is all we can do.”

The Clark County sheriff posted on Facebook: “Official emergency, evacuate Englewood and Ashland. Englewood residents go south to OK. Ashland residents goes east to Coldwater. Both towns are endanger of the incoming fires.”

In nearby Ford County, firefighters worked to contain fires in Spearville and Bucklin, southeast of Dodge City. And a fire was moving north toward Bloom from Clark County, according to J.D. Gilbert, the Ford County administrator and public information officer.

Protection is also being evacuated.

“They are evacuating Protection,” said Dave Webb of Protection in Comanche County. It has roughly 500 residents. “There is fire north of town about 10 to 12 miles from me. And there is a fire between Protection and Sitka, south of U.S. 160. I know of three houses that have burned near Ashland; they are in the country and not in town.

“I’m looking at heavy smoke right now. Some of my neighbors have left home.”

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The Dodge City Community College Student Activities Center has been opened for people affected by the fires.

The following areas in Ford County are being evacuated: Green Acres, Wilroads Gardens, 110 Spring and Marshall, U.S. 56 near Dodge City Raceway Park, South 113th and U.S. 56, plus Fort Dodge may also need to be evacuated.

And, shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, I-70 in north-central Kansas was closed in both directions near Wilson because of a fast-moving wildfire.

Smoke affected visibility on I-70 between Dorrance and Wilson. At one point, I-70 was shut down from Russell to the Sylvan Grove exit. Law enforcement authorities were telling people to avoid the area.

Wilson Police Chief Bob Doepp said his office had been suggesting evacuation late Monday afternoon, but the Kansas Highway Patrol made it mandatory for the town’s 780 residents.

“It has gotten past the interstate, is on the north of town,” he said. “It was going pretty fast as it moved through that CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land and has slowed down on some of the tilled land.

“We’ve told people to evacuate. People are still leaving.”

The National Weather Service is calling it a wildfire outbreak.

“Winds have become NW at almost all locations, with the last remaining SW winds in Barber county, becoming NW over the next hour,” the National Weather Service posted on Facebook at 6 p.m. Monday. “The NW wind direction will persist through much of the night. The good news: the NW wind speeds will relax rapidly after sunset, down to 10-20 mph by midnight. Winds will be westerly near 10 mph at sunrise Tuesday.”

But the winds will be back on Tuesday.

“While not as strong as Monday, they will still average 20-30 mph with gusts near 35 mph. Strongest gusts of 40-45 mph are expected NE of Dodge City,” the NWS post continued.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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