HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Emergency crews on Tuesday struggled to contain deadly wildfires that have forced thousands of people to flee their homes and scorched hundreds of square miles of land in four states.
The fires, which have killed at least five people, were burning in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado. According to the National Weather Service, fire conditions were also ripe in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska, as powerful thunderstorms moved through the nation’s midsection overnight, spawning dozens of tornadoes.
In Kansas, wildfires have burned about 625 square miles of land and killed one person. Corey Holt, of Oklahoma City, died Monday when his tractor-trailer jackknifed as he tried to back up on Highway 34 in Clark County, says the Kansas Highway Patrol. Holt succumbed to smoke after getting out of his vehicle. Two SUVs then crashed into the truck, injuring six more people, state Trooper Michael Racy said. The six people were hospitalized.
About 545 square miles of the state’s burned land is in Clark County on Kansas’ southern border with Oklahoma. The Kansas fires forced the closure of some roads as well, including two short stretches of Interstate 70, the main highway that cuts across the state from Colorado to Kansas City.
In the Texas Panhandle, three fires have burned almost 200 square miles of land and killed at least four people. One of the blazes near Amarillo threatened about 150 homes, while a larger fire in the northeast corner of the Panhandle, near the Oklahoma border, was only 5 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. That larger fire was responsible for a death on Monday, authorities said Tuesday, without providing further details.
A wildfire in Gray County in the Texas Panhandle killed three ranch hands who were trying to usher cattle away from the flames, said Judge Richard Peet, the county’s head administrator. One of the three apparently died of smoke inhalation Monday night and the other two were badly burned and died on the way to hospitals, he said.
Texas Forest Service spokesman Phillip Truitt said as many as four firefighters were hurt battling the fires Monday. He provided no details on their conditions Tuesday morning.
In northeastern Colorado near the Nebraska border, firefighters lost ground to a blaze in rural counties. They had the blaze 90 percent contained Monday evening, but only contained halfway on Tuesday, despite working overnight to douse hot spots and flare-ups. The fire has burned more than 45 square miles of land and destroyed three homes. Nearby residents were warned to be ready to evacuate if the fire advances toward them.
More than 70 firefighters from 13 departments battled the blaze, driven by wind gusts of nearly 50 mph, as it jumped Interstate 76 in northeastern Colorado.