(Riley County, KS - April 19, 2023) At 11:00 AM Tuesday, April 18, Riley County Fire District #1 was dispatched to the area near Indian Hill Road and Halls Ravine Road for reports of wildfire. Strong winds spread embers from a large fire burning on the Pottawatomie County side of the Big Blue River channel across the river and ignited grass and timber on the Riley County side.
The Riley County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) declared a local disaster emergency the afternoon of April 18, activating disaster emergency plans to help fight the wildfire which was spreading rapidly in steep and wooded terrain. The declaration was issued because the rapidly growing fire had the potential to cause wide-spread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property in disaster proportions.
A total of 35 RCFD#1 volunteer firefighters responded on 17 apparatus, with mutual aid provided by the Kansas Forest Service, Geary County Rural Fire Department, Marshall County Fire Department, North Central Wildland Fire Task Force from Mitchell County, Tipton Rural Fire District, Olsburg City Fire Department, and Heinen Brothers Agra Services air support. Riley County EMS was on scene to provide medical support for personnel. Riley County Police Department also provided their drone team to provide situational awareness of the fire due the extremely difficult terrain challenges.
“This Fire would have rapidly expanded and doubled or tripled in size without the aviation resources and large backburn operations performed by crews,” said Deputy Chief John Martens. “The mountain-like terrain was some of the most challenging we have seen and made this fight anything but easy.”
An estimated total of 300 acres of private and US Army Corps of Engineer land burned. No structures or livestock were lost and no injuries have been reported.
The fire is 90% contained as of 10:00 AM April 19, and full containment is expected by noon. Fire crews will remain on scene performing “mop up” and monitoring conditions. Strong winds and dangerous fire conditions are expected again today, which could cause flare-ups.
No outdoor burning is allowed in Riley County again today, due to dangerous fire conditions.
“We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all the neighboring Fire Departments and state resources that came to help. Without their assistance we might still be out in full force trying to get this fire under control and likely would have had significant damage to multiple structures. Several families could have lost their homes,” said Fire Chief Russel Stukey.
To learn more about the department or apply to become a volunteer firefighter, visit www.rileycountyks.gov/fire or call 785-537-6333 during business hours.