The road to normalcy for Medicine Lodge won’t come quick, but efforts are shifting that direction after an Easter snowfall blanketed the burning fields of south-central Kansas.
“God was on our side this morning, I assure you,” said John Nixon, a broker and auctioneer in Medicine Lodge.
The National Weather Service said Medicine Lodge received around half an inch to 1 inch of precipitation between 2 and 5 a.m.
The snowfall helped firefighting crews to further contain the wildfire that burned across nearly 400,000 acres in Oklahoma and Kansas over four days.
Fire departments from around Kansas and neighboring states flocked to Barber County to help control the fire. Starting Monday, outside fire departments and state agencies will start to leave Barber County, a process that could take about five days.
Barber County declared the wildfire 81 percent contained Sunday evening. The 19 percent not contained referred to hot spots within the burned area that overtook nearly half the county.
Containment numbers included 90 percent for Comanche County and 85 percent in Woods County, for a total containment estimate of 90 percent as of Sunday night, according to a release from the Kansas Forest Service.
The update follows three days of out-of-control burning that was previously stalled at 15 percent containment.
The damage and loss of livestock in Barber County adds hardship in a town already hit with a struggling rural economy.
Farmers from around the state donated hundreds of bales of hay to ranchers whose livestock survived, but grass and hay burned in the flames.
“It makes you realize how fortunate we are to live in a small town in Kansas, because when things go awry, people rally,” Nixon said.
Still some hot spots
Medicine Lodge still carried the smell of smoke after the snow melted and the temperature rose Sunday afternoon.
Shawna Hartman, spokeswoman for the Kansas Forest Service Incident Management Team, said hot spots flared sporadically in areas the snow didn’t reach, such as canyons, drainage areas or large, deep-smoldering logs.
Gaten Wood, an attorney for Barber County, said crews in the county would need to keep monitoring the burned area for hot spots for days and weeks to come.
Full damage estimates from the fire have not yet been tallied.
But Wood said the cost of resources from outside fire departments and the use of Black Hawk helicopters to dump water on the fire had mounted to more than $1 million.
That does not include Barber County’s costs and some state costs. It also does not include damages to property, including farmland, livestock, homes and barns that burned.
‘So much work’
The snow came in what seemed like a miracle to some farmers who had fought to keep flames from reaching homes and livestock on their property.
Jordan Lytle, a rancher in Medicine Lodge who had about a quarter of his land burn during the wildfire, said he was awake, watching for flare-ups on his land, when the snow started to fall at around 2 a.m. on Sunday.
After days of very little sleep, he simply said: “Thank you, Lord.”
Even with snow on the ground Easter morning, he said, he couldn’t eat Easter dinner with his family.
“There’s so much work to be done now,” he said.
When the fire approached on Wednesday, he said, he had an outpouring of support from friends as far as 100 miles away that drove to help spray water on his property.
But he said the weather, especially wind, proved too large a feat.
“It got so bad, we had to get out of there,” he said. “I knew I was leaving some cows to burn, but what do you do? We were completely surrounded by fire.”
Warmer and dryer conditions are expected to return to the fire area on Monday and Tuesday, according to a statement from Hartman. There is a significant to extreme fire weather risk predicted for both days.