Local emergency declared for scorched portion of Riley County

Cause remains under investigation
As a local emergency has been declared for a part of Riley County touched by wildfire already in 2023, officials continue to investigate what caused it.
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 6:43 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - As a local emergency has been declared for a part of Riley County touched by wildfire already in 2023, officials continue to investigate what caused it.

Riley Co. Fire District #1 announced around 6 p.m. on Monday, March 20, that crews had completely contained a wildfire that scorched between 300-400 acres of the southeastern part of the county.

Crews were called to the area of Highway 177 and Deep Creek Rd. around 2:15 p.m. with reports of the fire, which had started in the median of the highway. High winds and dry conditions accelerated the blaze to the northeast.

“This fire moved with incredible speed,” said Deputy Chief John Martens. “Fire conditions were extremely dangerous with high winds, low humidity, and warm temperatures. I’m thankful for the support of our volunteers and neighboring agencies who stepped up quickly to provide aid and attack this fire.”

By 2:40 p.m., the fire was 75% contained with the help of the Kansas Forest Service and Geary Co. Rural Fire Department Explorer Post 343.

Officials said more than 16 homes were threatened by the fire, however, no structures were lost. Kansas Forest Service personnel also continued to make water drops coordinated by personnel on the scene.

A local disaster emergency was declared for Riley Co. by officials. The scale and scope of the fire threatened to cause widespread and severe damage, injury and potentially death in the disaster area. The move activates aid and evacuation procedures should they become necessary.

“I signed the declaration to make sure key resources were put in place to help fight this fire and keep everyone safe,” said Commission Vice-Chair John Ford.

“The disaster declaration gives us the best opportunity to fight this fire and the best tools to keep everyone safe. I’m very appreciative of the people out fighting this fire and glad we’re getting it under control,” said Commission Vice-Chair John Ford.

Around 3:20 p.m. crews said they were able to contain about 95% of the blaze and by 6 p.m. it had been extinguished. No evacuations were necessary nor were injuries reported. Wabaunsee Co. Fire District 8 as well as Heinen Brothers Agra Services also helped contain the fire.

Officials noted that a total of 20 firefighters responded on 14 engines with 4 command vehicles.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, however, arson is not suspected.

“While the cause is unknown, it’s likely that the sparks from a vehicle or trailer, or an improperly discarded cigarette caught the grass in the median on fire. From there, the fire spread quickly,” said Martens. “We’re hoping spring rains provide some relief, but it’s never a good idea to throw cigarettes out of your vehicle. Always dispose of smoking materials responsibly to avoid causing fires like we saw today.”

Any residents who may have sustained property damage from this fire have been encouraged to contact the Kansas Insurance Department Consumer Assistance Hotline at 1-800-432-2484.