news and events » news

News Header

News Item

return to News

Lawmakers to seek federal, state relief for residents hit by Kansas wildfires

by Andrew Bahl, Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal |

Kansas officials are in the process of seeking relief for residents affected by wildfires which scorched more than 100,000 acres in four Kansas counties last week, killing two and burning houses, livestock and cropland.

The fires were a result of historically high winds, some topping 100 mph, which slammed Kansas last week, leaving behind a wake of property damage and thousands of residents across the state without power.

All in all, 24 counties issued local disaster declarations as a result of the high winds. But the fires were most intense in Ellis, Osborne, Rooks and Russell counties.

>> Fire damages likely to stretch in to the millions of dollars

State officials already have determined at least a dozen homes were lost to the fires, as well as 700 head of cattle, although Maj. Gen. David Weishaar, adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard, told legislators Monday those numbers would likely rise.

A damage assessment is being conducted, which will be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the first step in seeking federal relief. Weishaar said he believes the state will exceed the threshold needed to receive assistance.

Damages from lost power, which hit over 140,000 residents statewide, alone would be between $5 million and $7 million, he added. Officials are in the process of determining which expenses will be covered by FEMA aid and what won't.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, who represents part of the affected areas in the Kansas House, said Thursday the recovery efforts were ongoing.

"It's going to be a long process," he said in an interview.

Many residents had not yet even filed insurance claims on lost property. There are potential ecological impacts as well, as burned land would not be able to regenerate until spring, meaning the land will sit barren throughout the winter months.

And Waymaster said state firefighting authorities would be enlisted ahead of Christmas Eve, with warm weather and high winds again forecasted, meaning the risk for fires will be high.

"The local fire departments in this area, they're tired," he said. "I mean, they've been dealing with this for a week. Their equipment is worn out. They themselves are just exhausted."

Kansas Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kelsey Olson said efforts were underway to connect those affected to mental health support, including via the High Plains Mental Health Center in Hays.

Understaffing in mental health fields in Kansas would complicate the effort, Olson said, but she added the department was working with the Kansas State University Research and Extension program to at least ensure those conversations were happening informally.

"They need support, those affected, and it is going to be a long-term impact," Olson told legislators Monday. "There are residual impacts there."