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Hutchinson-area fire ‘suspicious in nature,’ officials say

Wildfires burn north of Hutchinson on Tuesday. The view looks southwest along K-61 showing smoke billowing from a burning fire.
Wildfires burn north of Hutchinson on Tuesday. The view looks southwest along K-61 showing smoke billowing from a burning fire. Hutchinson News

Officials in Reno County say a grass fire that burned more than 5,400 acres in Hutchinson’s Highland Golf Club area “is suspicious in nature.”

As of Friday, the blaze was 95 percent contained, the Reno County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post. The fire – one of several that raged across the state this week – was reported late Sunday morning. The Highland area, which includes a golf course and residences, is north of Hutchinson.

A drone captures stark images of the scarred Kansas land near Coldwater and Greensburg on March 8, 2017. (Courtesy of Jonah Sowa/Kiowa County Media Center)

Two people were hurt, at least 10 homes were destroyed and 5,441 acres were affected, officials said Friday. Earlier estimates put the affected acreage slightly higher, at 5,585. All residents evacuated were allowed back into their homes by Thursday afternoon.

The fire boundary extended south to north from 56th Street to Arrowhead Road, and east to west from K-61 to Pennington Road. Not everything in the perimeter burned.

Statewide, nearly 712,000 acres had burned as of Friday morning, officials said. Along with Reno County, active fires continued to burn in Clark, Comanche, Ellis and Rooks counties.

Fire crews continued to monitor previous burn sites for hot spots and flare-ups, officials said.

Hutchinson Fire Department officials said on Friday they could not comment further on the suspicious nature of the Highland fire, citing the ongoing investigation into its cause.

“Crews will work today to extinguish the remaining 5 percent” of the Highland area fire, the sheriff’s office said on Facebook.

A second fire that broke out in Hutchinson this week – the Jupiter Hills fire – was contained and under control earlier this week, officials said.

A ban on open burning remains in effect.

At 7 p.m. Friday, officials were planning to deactivate two phone numbers – 844-834-3659 and 844-834-3658 – that have been available for people to call for information. After that time, anyone who finds fire damage to their property that they haven’t yet reported should call the Hutchinson Fire Department at 620-694-2871.

The Sheriff’s Office also offered these fire-related tips and information Friday on Facebook:

▪ The Emergency Animal Shelter at the fairgrounds is closed and all remaining domestic animals have been taken to the Hutchinson Animal Shelter. Contact Stacy Cleaves at 620-694-1924 with questions.

▪ Residents with insurance coverage issues or questions can call the Consumer Assistance Hotline at 800-432-2484 or visit www.ksinsurance.org.

▪ Dillons stores across the state are taking monetary donations at the register for the American Red Cross to support firefighters.

▪ For information and updates, residents can call the United Way hotline by dialing 211. Donations, which all go back to the local community, can also be made through that number.

▪ Go to www.kansasforests.org/fire_mana…/fireprevention.html for information on preventing personal property fires.

Greg Gardiner's family has been ranching in Clark County for five generations, having homesteaded in 1885. This week's fires are their ranch's worst natural disaster, killing about 500 cattle. (Video and Photos by Mike Pearce / The Wichita Eagle)

Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle

Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker

Help for wildfire victims

Resource centers for victims of Kansas wildfires will be open Sunday in Hutchinson and Tuesday in Ashland, emergency officials said Friday.

Caseworkers will be available to help people create personal recovery plans, navigate paperwork and locate assistance for their specific needs. That includes housing information, groceries, clothing, medicine, household items, cleanup support and financial assistance.

The center in Hutchinson will be from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the encampment building on the Kansas State Fairgrounds, officials said.

The center in Ashland will be at Ashland High School from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

Those applying for assistance will be required to bring identification showing address and proof of residence to be eligible for assistance from some agencies.

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