By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Firefighters are getting under control some of the fast-moving wildfires that have killed six people and scorched about 1.5 million acres (over 600,000 hectares) from Colorado to Kansas, causing thousands of evacuations, officials said on Wednesday.
The threat of wildfires remained high in the U.S. Plains due to dry weather, strong winds and parched vegetation. The National Weather Service issued a critical fire risk warning for the Texas Panhandle into Oklahoma, Kansas and western Missouri.
In Kansas, the wildfires this week were the largest on record but many of the blazes were being contained, state officials said. Six helicopters have been dispatched to drop water in remote areas and two more were on their way, they said.
“We are in much better shape than we were yesterday at this time,” Angee Morgan, deputy director of emergency management, said in a Wednesday social media post.
The blazes have scorched about 650,000 acres (over 260,000 hectares) in more than 20 counties, killing one person, forcing the evacuation of thousands and leading to significant livestock deaths, state officials said.
In Texas, where four people have died in wildfires this week, three major fires have scorched about 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares) in the Panhandle. The biggest, the so-called Perryton fire, is 60 percent contained after burning 315,000 acres (127,500 hectares), according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, which tracks the blazes.
“We have some high fire (risk) days coming …,” said Phillip Truitt, a specialist with the service, “So we’re trying to get these fires buttoned up as fast as we can.”
In Oklahoma, where one death was reported in local media, Governor Mary Fallin declared an emergency in 22 counties.
Eight people have been treated for breathing problems from wildfires in north and western Oklahoma that have scorched more than 500 square miles (1,300 square km), state officials said.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio and Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City; Editing by James Dalgleish)