Wednesday 18 October 2017

Six people die as thousands flee US wildfires

Warnings have been issued to other US states (AP)
Warnings have been issued to other US states (AP)

Roxana Hegeman in Kansas

Emergency crews have struggled to contain deadly wildfires that have scorched hundreds of square kilometres of land in four US states, killing six people and forcing thousands of others to flee their homes ahead of the wind-whipped flames.

Fires burned in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado, and warnings that conditions were ripe were issued for Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska, even after powerful thunderstorms moved through the middle of the country overnight, spawning dozens of tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service.

Kansas wildfires have burned about 1,000 square kilometres of land and killed one person.

The Kansas Highway Patrol said Corey Holt, of Oklahoma City, died when his tractor-trailer jackknifed as he tried to back up because of poor visibility on southern Kansas highway, and he succumbed to smoke after getting out of his vehicle. Two SUVs crashed into the truck, injuring six people who were taken to hospitals, state trooper Michael Racy said.

The vast majority of the state’s burned land is in Clark County, on Kansas’ southern border with Oklahoma, where 30 structures have been damaged, said Allison Kuhns, a spokeswoman for the county’s emergency management office.

About half of those structures are near the small city of Englewood, which was one of two communities evacuated. Ms Kuhns said there had been significant cattle losses and entire ranches had been engulfed.

The largest evacuations elsewhere were in Reno County, where 10,000 to 12,000 people voluntarily left their homes on Monday night, said Katie Horner, a spokeswoman for the state’s department of emergency management. She said 66 people from the area were in shelters yesterday in Hutchinson, 60km north-west of Wichita.

Among them was Shelley Wilson, who fled with her disabled son and pets from a blaze that was encircling her farm.

She returned later that night with her adult daughter to retrieve her tractor. “I don’t know if I have a home to go home to,” Wilson said at the shelter as her daughter did her best to lighten her mood. “In case I needed to rebuild, I wanted to at least have my tractor.”

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