March 26, 2016 / 8:05 PM / 3 years ago

Black Hawk helicopters aid crews fighting Kansas wildfire

The Anderson Creek Fire near Medicine Lodge, Kansas, is seen in this U.S. Army National Guard picture taken March 25, 2016. REUTERS/U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Zachary Sheely/Handout via Reuters

(Reuters) - Black Hawk helicopters dumped buckets of water on an immense wildfire raging across Kansas and Oklahoma on Saturday, helping firefighters to get an edge on a blaze that has destroyed hundreds of square miles of ranch land, officials said.

By midday Saturday, the Anderson Creek Fire was 36 percent contained across the two states, said Melanie Karns, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Forestry Services.

Officials feared the fire, which broke out on Tuesday and had scorched 400,000 acres by Friday, would spread even further with high winds forecast for overnight Friday, but the weather cooperated and fire crews were able to get ahead of the blaze, Karns said.

In addition, the Kansas Air National Guard flew four Black Hawk helicopters equipped with buckets over hot spots, dumping water on burning areas impossible to reach by foot, said Shawna Hartman, spokeswoman for Kansas Forest Service.

The main front of the fire was in Barber County, Kansas, about 100 miles southwest of Wichita, near the Oklahoma border.

“This is real rough country out here, and the Black Hawks are helping us get water into areas we had difficulty getting to,” Hartman said.

“There are deep canyons, drainages and gullies that are full of heavy fuels like prairie grasses and red cedar trees. They can hold the heat for a long time and let the fire jump from one place to another,” Hartman said.

Officials were working to tally damage from the wildfire, with rough estimates coming in at “thousands of bales of hay, hundreds of miles of fencing and numerous livestock,” Karns said.

They also were working to update the total acreage burned by the fire, Hartman said.

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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