DODGE CITY, Kan. -- A handful of wildfires appear to be burning in southwestern Kansas Tuesday amid what the National Weather Service is calling ‘extremely critical’ fire weather conditions.
A wildfire in Pawnee County near Garfield was spreading to the southeast and was estimated at 7-8 miles long "and likely rapidly expanding," according to meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Dodge City. They urged residents in Zook and Garfield to monitor the situation closely.
Meanwhile, Doppler radar has spotted a smoke plume emanating from a wildfire in southeastern Hodgeman County.
Satellite imagery has since spotted at least two more possible wildfires in the region -- one about 9 miles south of Sublette, another near Deerfield.
Bone dry weather has left the region parched, and combined with high winds and an arid air mass in place and it's a recipe for increased wildfire danger.
"Our morning weather balloon/radiosonde showed that it's extremely windy and extremely dry currently right above the ground," meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Dodge City wrote. "Once the inversion breaks and this airmass mixes down... an explosive fire growth environment will ensue."
NWS's Storm Prediction Center has issued an extreme fire weather risk -- the highest warning level -- for Tuesday that extends from southwestern Kansas across the Oklahoma Panhandle and into northern Texas, including Dodge City, Kansas, Guymon, Oklahoma and Amarillo, Texas.
Winds are forecast to gust as high as 55-70 mph Tuesday afternoon as relative humidity levels fall to 10-15%, perhaps even into single digits in northwestern Texas. Guymon has already had a gust to 66 mph, while Levelland, Texas hit 65 mph and both Dalhart and Hart, Texas, have clocked a gust of 69 mph.
Emergency officials are stressing extreme caution in the region and strongly urge against any activities that could generate sparks, such as outdoor burning, dragging trailer chains, or parking on dry grass.
In addition to enhancing the wildfire threat, strong winds are creating a risk of dust storms. The Kansas Highway Patrol reported multiple accidents amid low visibility from blowing dust Tuesday morning. Blowing Dust Advisories are in effect until 7 p.m. CDT for parts of southwestern Kansas.