Brownback on wildfires: Kansas not out of the woods yet

RENO COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Governor Sam Brownback says he’s impressed with the massive effort to fight Kansas’ wildfires and keep residents safe.

The numbers behind the fires are staggering: more than 660,000 acres have burned, and while some fires are out, others are only contained. In Clark County alone, more than 350,000 acres burned. That’s more than half the county.

Brownback visited Reno County Wednesday where he caught up with some of the firefighters where Red Cross volunteers were helping them keep hydrated.

“I know you guys are probably thirsty, there you go,” said one volunteer who was helping a firefighter.

As fire crews from across Kansas took a few minutes to collect their thoughts and catch their breaths, others were ending a 12-hour shift. And, going home and unwinding can be a challenge in itself.

“Sleep has been hard to come by the last few days here,” said Hutchinson firefighter Chris Ledbetter. “But we’re getting it set up with all the help from all the other agencies.”

Fire crews from across the state remain on the front lines of the fires, and when it comes time for sleep, it can be tough to unwind.

“Get to see our families, let them know we are safe, and are holding it together to keep battling the fire,” Ledbetter said.

Jeff Deal is the fire chief in McPherson. He’s been working in the command center, and when asked how tough the job fighting the fires is, the conversation quickly brings up the emotions many are feeling.

“To those guys that are out there working? What do you say? Thank you falls so short. You can’t.” Deal said, his sentence unfinished.

The fire management teams say the fires have been devastating, and the constant work to keep the fires from spreading is the biggest concern due to the smoldering trees and rough, sandy terrain. But, the commanders say without the firefighters converging on the area from across the state, it could be much worse.

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