A massive grass fire spreading approximately 1,500 acres damaged at least four homes and numerous other outbuildings northwest of Topeka on Sunday afternoon, but no injuries were reported, Shawnee County authorities said.
The cause of the massive fire just south of Shawnee County State Park was unknown and under investigation, Silver Lake Fire Department Captain Graig Brummer said Sunday evening.
The blaze, which traveled north and east at a quick rate of speed, was one of at least 20 grass fires reported Sunday in Shawnee County, a county dispatcher told The Topeka Capital-Journal.
Authorities said the first reports of the large fire came out around 12:30 p.m. in the 5700 block of N.W. Humphrey, and it quickly spread north to N.W. 78th with Humphrey being the eastern border. The blaze went west as far as Hodges Road.
Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones said one house was destroyed and at least three others had significant damage. Brummer said the outbuildings damaged or destroyed were still being counted but numbed at least a handful.
No one was in the destroyed house on N.W. 66th that neighbors described as a newly remodeled vacant modular home.
Brummer added he hadnt seen a grass fire quite to this extent, and it ranked on the upper end of fires he has dealt with.
(Authorities) were able to evacuate as many of these homes as possible, therefore no injuries, Jones said, adding the strong winds crews battled had gusts up to an estimated 30 mph. The quick response saved a lot of those structures. You just really got to be careful with these types of conditions.
While firefighters were still dealing with the fire well into the afternoon, it was relatively under control when Jones gave his report around 3 p.m.
I got to say because of our quick response we were able to mitigate, or at least minimize what we have, Jones said.
As of 5:30 p.m., Brummer said the majority of the fire was out and under control, but they were still working spot fires, doing cleanup work and collecting information. Crews were still on scene at 8 p.m.
A cost estimate to the damage done wasnt known Sunday night.
Some of the fires going on from across the county may have been from fires the day previous that started up again, Jones said.
Jodi and Bill Berndt have lived in their home in the 6100 block of N.W. Humphrey for 12 years and never had to evacuate because of a grass fire.
That all changed Saturday when a small grass fire burned up part of their backyard and came dangerously close to their house. Turns out, that fire saved the couple and their family from a much larger fire on Sunday afternoon.
The Berndts didnt have to evacuate Sunday because their backyard was already burned. Instead, they watched and waited helplessly to see if their neighbors homes were damaged.
Im glad (Saturdays fire) did (burn our backyard) though. We wouldve been in a world of hurt, Bill Berndt said.
At least 10 fire units fought the blaze Sunday including crews from Silver Lake, Soldier, Rossville, Topeka, Auburn, Shawnee Heights, Delia, Mission, Hoyt, Mayetta, St. Marys, and the 190th Air Refueling Wing.
Its horrible, Jodi Berndt said. Luckily no one has gotten hurt. This magnitude is the first time. This is the worst weve seen.
Susan Wells, another resident on N.W. Humphrey, saw the fire come close to her house as well.
Wells said she spent a lot of the afternoon running hoses around, raking grass up, just stomping the ground trying to put the small flames out.
Its very (scary), she said. All of the sudden you see flames coming and smoke. The smokes kind of what gets you worried because youre breathing it in and youre trying to put the fire out and youre thinking maybe this isnt such a smart thing for me to be doing. You do what you got to do.
Its just been mayhem trying to put a fire out then it starts back up with the wind and then you put it out again, she said. Its been a real hassle. The wind just kept bringing it closer and closer.
Wells was optimistic all of her property was going to be OK, with just trees and grass lost.
The horses are fine, the dogs are fine. We were really lucky, she said, taking a break from handing out water to first responders at the command post at N.W. 66th and Humphrey.
This area has been notorious for people burning instead of mowing their pastures and baling it up so its short, she said. They kind of do the lazy mans way of just burning the pastures down to get rid of the overgrowth. This is a hazard we go through every year.
In addition to the Shawnee County Sheriffs Office, people from the Silver Lake Police Department, Kansas Highway Patrol, Shawnee County Emergency Management and American Medical Response were on scene.
KHP provided aerial views with its airplane.
While there were several other grass fires Sunday, no other structures were reported damaged.
At point Sunday, four different fires were being held with no one to respond, a county dispatcher said, as the massive one northwest of Topeka took up a lot of resources.
One other grass fire reported around 1 p.m. west of the capital city near Interstate 70 left crews battling it for several hours, off and on from about 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The only injury reported Sunday was to a firefighter at one of the many grass fires, officials said. After receiving treatment on scene from AMR, the firefighter was fine.
I would suggest if anyone, anyone has any thinking about any type of outdoor burning to not do that at this particular time due to the hazards of what we have, Jones said.