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Kansas National Guard helps battle wildfires

By Kansas National Guard | March 26, 2020

TOPEKA, Kan. – The Kansas National Guard is helping firefighters battle wildfires burning 20 to 25 miles southwest of Medicine Lodge in Barber County.

Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the Kansas National Guard's 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation, out of Salina will assist local firefighters. The helicopters have 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," said Gov. Laura Kelly. "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 governor issued a disaster declaration authorizing use of state resources 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 March 12 to coordinate state resources in response to the COVID-19 virus. State partners from the Kansas Forest Service and Kansas Fire Marshal's office are helping battle the wildland fires.

"The men and women 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," said Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general of the Kansas Guard and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

"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," Tafanelli said. "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.

"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.