A fast-moving grass fire burned a huge black swath through the center of Butler County today, forcing the evacuation of a school and several homes but causing no significant property damage.
Butler County sheriff’s officials said the fire, which burned several thousand acres near the Kansas Turnpike west and north of El Dorado, caused no injuries to humans or livestock.
Smoke from the blaze, which could be seen as far away as Wichita, forced the closing of the Turnpike for about 45 minutes beginning at 4 p.m.
Fire crews said they were able to contain the blaze before sundown.
Today’s fire was another in a series of grass fires have plagued south-central Kansas in recent weeks as strong winds and unseasonably warm temperatures have lingered in an area that has been without significant moisture for several weeks.
Although there is only a 20 percent chance of rain today, forecasters said fire danger should lessened by much cooler temperatures that are expected to reach only into the 50s.
John Weckerling, who tracks fire statistics for the Kansas state fire marshal’s office, said he didn’t yet have any statewide statistics on grass fires this year. But during the past decade, he said, he didn’t recall a time other than now when nearly half the counties in the state had active burn bans.
Sedgwick County Fire Marshal Tim Millspaugh said his agency has responded to more than 90 grass fires since the first of the year.
“We’ve tripled what we normaly run,” he said.
The Wichita Fire Department, meanwhile, was urging smokers Wednesday to not discard cigarettes through automobile windows a practice that was blamed for three grass fires within a 24-hour period.
City fire officials said throwing cigarette butts out of a car is littering in Wichita and carries a fine of $100 to $1,000. They said that given the current conditions, they were increasing efforts to catch those violating the ordinance.