Mar 26, 2020 6:00 AM

Kan. wildfire contained after Governor issues disaster declaration

Posted Mar 26, 2020 6:00 AM
Photo Barber County Sheriff's office
Photo Barber County Sheriff's office

BARBER COUNTY— The wildfire burning south of Medicine Lodge in Barber County is out, according to the sheriff's department. The blaze consumed over 900 acres but there were no injuries, according to the sheriff's department. 

Fire crews from Barber County, many surrounding counties and The Kansas National Guard were called to help fight the fire.

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Soldiers from the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/1stBn108thAVN/?__tn__=K-R&amp;eid=ARC00B0SsjfKrrrjGRwI-OAHTC74RDgJtoxxQ1AW-oW3AgIUYxogDXdEj_WyIe9G57uSP6JDlzrpnxBM&amp;fref=mentions&amp;__xts__%5B0%5D=68.ARByJM3xRff_koHy7pEfUfBbyQ5_KpFjEyFcCeat7hVAcTVoQ2sEhNDGQttBQu0ViH3awd7UDmWGmoRRpr3eCtH5JUexjzGA1osx_GcC1JfdIvoYFJ_XpGOtQKbuhf23i7AzyJ9BWo5qiYHnybAcbxq0NYvf0jPXZX-roczpGYQeiJIMilqCWTt0RwfCVrT_GTA2FdiGKfKEJxHCF0FcvlvoW5OCRjvcuo5GEBC3LXvzvtYYLuC5znCUayr6mJB64-OOU56E5kZ2-QFOHePmlI6y7JjuvzKCfNkulGT6B2FJnCxS7v4Ye7mQN-TjMSWlvo9P4DszYr9EwFOzAHiZ">1st Battalion, 108th Aviation Regiment</a>&nbsp;load two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with Bambi buckets in preparation Wednesday afternoon for going to Barber County to help support local firefighters battling a wildland fire.
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation Regiment load two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with Bambi buckets in preparation Wednesday afternoon for going to Barber County to help support local firefighters battling a wildland fire.

BARBER COUTY —Governor Laura Kelly has issued a disaster declaration for wildland fires burning approximately 20-25 miles southwest of Medicine Lodge in Barber County. The declaration authorizes the use of state resources and personnel to assist with response and recovery operations in affected counties that meet certain criteria.

The Kansas Division of Emergency Management activated the State Emergency Operations Center in Topeka on March 12 to coordinate state resources to the COVID-19 virus. In addition to the state agencies already responding to COVID-19, state partners from the Kansas Forest Service and Kansas Fire Marshal's office have been requested to provide support for the wildland fires.

Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the Kansas National Guard's 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation out of Salina are preparing to fly to Barber County to assist local firefighters. The helicopters are equipped with collapsible 660-gallon water buckets. The water will be dropped on areas that are difficult for ground crews to reach.

"I am proud of the extraordinary work these men and women do as citizen-soldiers and airmen - especially in the face of emergencies that threaten Kansans," Governor Kelly said. "They live and work in our communities, and yet always are prepared when called to duty - whether at the state or federal level. They are proving it once again."

"The men and woman of the Kansas National Guard, the staff of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, and all our state agencies are no strangers when it comes to working more than one disaster," Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management said. "Just last year, in the midst of all the flooding across the state, nine tornadoes hit the state in the span of about an hour. We were able to coordinate assistance in response to those tornadoes while still dealing with the floods. I am extremely proud of all the people in this agency, the local first responders and those who serve in our emergency support function agencies for the important work they do."

The Kansas Forest Service deployed Air Tanker 95 and a district fire management officer to Barber County to integrate with efforts of local firefighters. Air Tanker 95 is currently making drops.

"The efforts of firefighters on the front line of the fire demonstrate their dedication to protecting their communities in light of the many challenges we face with the COVID-19 pandemic," Mark Neely, state fire management officer, said.

Continue Reading Salina Post
Mar 26, 2020 6:00 AM
Rural America watches pandemic erupt in cities as fear grows

DUFUR, Ore. (AP) — The social distancing rules repeated like a mantra in America’s urban centers, where the coronavirus is spreading exponentially, might seem silly in wide-open places where neighbors live miles apart and “working from home” means another day spent branding calves or driving a tractor alone through a field.

But as the pandemic spreads through the U.S., those living in rural areas, too, are increasingly threatened. Tiny towns tucked into Oregon’s windswept plains and cattle ranches miles from anywhere in South Dakota might not have had a single case of the new coronavirus, but their main streets are also empty and their medical clinics overwhelmed by the worried.

Residents from rural Alabama to the woods of Vermont to the frozen reaches of Alaska fear the spread of the disease from outsiders, the social isolation that comes when the town’s only diner closes, and economic collapse in places where jobs were already tough to come by.

“Nobody knows what to do and they’re just running in circles, so stay away from me is what I’m saying,” said Mike Filbin, a 70-year-old cattle rancher in Wasco County, Oregon, one of the few parts of the state that has yet to see a case of COVID-19.

“Right now, we’re pretty clean over here, but we’re not immune to nothin’ — and if they start bringing it over, it’ll explode here.”

To make matters worse, some of the most remote communities have limited or no internet access and spotty cellphone service. That makes telecommuting and online learning challenging in an era of blanket school and work closures, and it eliminates the possibility of the FaceTime card games and virtual cocktail hours that urban Americans have turned to in droves to stay connected.

The routine ways that rural Americans connect — a bingo night, stopping in at a local diner or attending a potluck — are suddenly taboo.

“Rural people are reliant on their neighbors and have more confidence and trust in their neighbors,” said Ken Johnson, a senior demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy and professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “Now you have people who are supposed to self-isolate themselves. What does that mean when people you depend on, in order to help you, are going to put themselves and their families at risk? I don’t know what that will do in rural America.”

Neil Bradshaw, the mayor of Ketchum, Idaho, is starting to see the answer in his own community.

The rural resort town has struggled since the arrival of COVID-19, and he fears if the virus lingers too long, it could devastate it. The town is nestled next door to the tony skiing destination Sun Valley Resort and is known as the second-home haven for dozens of celebrities.

It’s also become the epicenter of Idaho’s caseload, with at least 35 cases and known community spread of the virus. At least 14 of the cases are among health care workers, forcing the town’s small medical workers to bring in replacement staffers from nearby cities.

“Our town thrives on people coming to town, and for the first time in our history we are discouraging visitors,” said Bradshaw, of the town of 2,700 people. “Initially people had different levels of adoption, but there’s tremendous community pressure that we’re all in this together. We’ve gone from being a vibrant town to a ghost town.”

The town’s coffers rely on a local option tax, and if that drops by half the city will have lost $700,000 in revenue, he said.

Some communities have pushed back on shutdowns that have brought daily life to a standstill. Leaders from seven Utah counties, for example, sent a letter earlier this week to Gov. Gary Herbert urging a “return to normalcy,” and said the closure of schools and business was causing panic and hurting the economy.

“As of (Monday), the total deaths attributed to the virus in the United States stands at ninety,” the letter states. “Not nine hundred, not nine thousand, not ninety thousand. Ninety. This number is sure to rise in the near future but we need to keep our wits about us.”

Others worry about outsiders bringing the disease to truly remote areas that aren’t equipped to deal with it. Across the nation, there are over 51,000 general intensive care beds in urban counties, compared with just 5,600 in rural counties, according to data compiled by The Associated Press.

Those beds serve a smaller population than in urban areas, but it would still take fewer people in rural areas to overwhelm a typical hospital. In fiscal year 2018, the average rural hospital had eight ICU beds, compared with 20 for a typical hospital in an urban area.

In Georgiana, a small town in southern Alabama, the only hospital closed last year and residents have now been forced to flock to the health clinic instead when a person in a town 5 miles (8 kilometers) away was diagnosed with COVID-19. More than 30% of Georgiana’s 1,600 residents are over age 60, putting them at higher risk with limited medical facilities to serve them, said Mayor Jerome Antone.

The town’s older residents, he said, are “aggressively upset” even though no one there has been diagnosed yet.

In Alaska’s Point Hope, an Inupiat whaling village at the edge of the Arctic Ocean nearly 700 miles  north of Anchorage, tribal leaders have been preparing and discussing potential issues such as air travel into town. The state’s limited road system doesn’t reach the community of 900 people, which relies on planes for much of its connection to the outside world.

This week, one of the two airlines that serve Point Hope will begin restricting flights to cargo and passengers with medical or other essential needs.

Still, residents worry the recent deaths of two elders will bring out-of-town mourners for the funerals.

“We have all kinds of different people who come into our village,” said acting Mayor Daisy Sage. “This coronavirus is serious.”

Thousands of miles away, in South Dakota, falling prices for beef are generating as much — or more — worry than the virus.

Sam Stoddard, a cattle rancher near the small community of Kadoka, population 650, said futures markets for beef have dropped up to 30% because of the coronavirus. He’s worried about longtime ranchers being able to hang on.

If the market remains terrible, he said, ranchers can put off selling their calves until later in the year — but no one knows how long the economy will be in upheaval, leaving everyone stressed.

At the same time, the state has not shuttered businesses, leaving residents wondering what to expect next. South Dakota has 30 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

“Normally this time of year we’re more worried about a big blizzard coming in and killing 10% of our calves. You know it’s coming, and you can prepare for it,” said Stoddard, who lives 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the nearest town of any size.

“With this, you don’t know what’s coming or what you should be doing.”

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