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Thursday, January 20, 2022

2 Fatalities in Kansas bushfires caused by windy and dry weather

Authorities said Friday that two men died from injuries sustained by wildfires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres in Kansas this week.

Richard Szymanek, 84, a farmer and rancher who lived near Leoti, died Thursday night at a hospital in Denver, Mayor Leoti and fire chief Charlie Hughes said. According to Hughes, he was outside his home trying to put out a fire on Wednesday when he fell and was unable to stand up.

The Ellis County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that the remains of 36-year-old Derrick Kelly were found next to his burned-out car in the county countryside. The coroner identified the remains, the sheriff’s office said.

Kelly was last seen at Hayes on Wednesday, shortly before his fiancée reported him missing. The sheriff’s office reported that he was supposed to be driving along the circuit roads in the direction of Natoma.

Both men died in wildfires that erupted Wednesday in western and central Kansas due to drought and winds of up to 90 miles per hour. The Kansas Forest Service said 625 square miles had burned in 11 counties in western Kansas, and smaller fires in other counties.

In the small town of Paradise in Russell County, a family counted their blessings, but also mourned the loss of their home and their cows.

Brett Thompson, the 58-year-old mayor of Paradise, suffered eye injuries while trying to save his cattle herd, his daughter Katie Thompson said. While he was away, his house burned down – the only house in the city of about 50 people that was destroyed by fire.

His wife fled before their home was destroyed and the family’s grain elevator business was also unharmed, said Katie Thompson, a Jetmore teacher who returned home when she heard about the fire.

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“It’s a mixture of emotions,” she said. “We are devastated not to be home anymore, along with half of our cattle herd and a large part of our livelihood. But we still have an elevator, my grandmother and sister still have their houses, and most importantly, my dad is alive. “

When a fire engulfed the region on Wednesday, residents of Paradise and three other small towns were evacuated, according to Dustin Finkenbinder, chief of the fire department in nearby Waldo. The fire destroyed an area about 45 miles long, he told The Kansas City Star.

“We’ve fought fire and winds at 50 miles per hour before, but no more than 100 miles per hour. So we just did our best, ”he said. “As far as damage is concerned, I mean catastrophic would be the right word.”

By Friday, several small fires had been contained across the state, and teams were monitoring them to prevent re-fires, said Shauna Hartman, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Forest Service.

But several larger fires were still burning, some in areas inaccessible to ground brigades, she said. Officials used helicopters to spill water over these bonfires in an attempt to suppress the fire and heat and let ground brigades in.

It will take several days to determine how many acres have been burned, as well as to completely contain fires and secure areas, she said.

Margaret Stafford

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