MEDICINE LODGE, KANSAS - Firefighters trying to snuff out the biggest wildfire in Kansas history are getting help from military helicopters — and a potential assist from looming rain or snow.
Four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the Kansas National Guard were deployed Saturday in the effort to contain the persistent prairie blazes that since Tuesday have charred at least 620 square miles (1,600 square kilometers) in Oklahoma and southern Kansas.
Six homes have been destroyed and some livestock has been lost, the Kansas adjutant general's office said. Three bridges and one railroad trestle have also been damaged or destroyed. No serious human injuries have been reported.
At least two of the helicopters have 660-gallon (2,500-liter) buckets that will be used to dump water from local sources onto the flames, said Ben Bauman, a spokesman for the Kansas adjutant general's office. The National Guard also was contributing a fuel tanker truck and another ground support vehicle.
Firefighters focused again Saturday southwest of Wichita in Butler County, where only 15 percent of the blaze that has scorched 427 square miles (1,106 square kilometers) of the county was contained, said Darcy Golliher, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Incident Management Team.
The National Weather Service said the area where the fire has raged, which borders Oklahoma, may get one-tenth to one-quarter inch (0.25 to 0.64 centimeters) of rain or snow Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Shawna Hartman, a Kansas Forest Service spokeswoman, said slightly windier conditions prevailed Saturday compared with the previous day. And while she expects the forecast precipitation to add welcome moisture, "it really won't do anything to the fire that's actively burning.''
Still, she said, "we don't anticipate the perimeter [of the fire] increasing at all.''