Arson was the cause of a large 1,200-acre grass fire that ignited at 11:25 p.m. Sunday southwest of Florence along 90th Rd. west of Xavier Rd., according to Kansas Fire Marshall.
“I spoke with the marshal and the cause was ruled as ‘very suspicious,’” Florence fire chief Mark Slater said. “It started in the pasture, but we haven’t pinpointed what actually started it yet.”
Kevin Doel, public information manager with office of the state fire marshal, confirmed the fire was deemed arson.
“It was the biggest fire we’ve been on in quite a while,” Slater said. “With wind gusts of 45 mph, it was a very fast, very hot fire.”
Slater said 18 fire trucks and 36 firefighters from Florence, Marion, Burns, Cedar Point, Peabody, Doyle Creek Cattle Company, and a couple farmers who keep water trucks for personal use responded.
The blaze stretched over roughly 1,200 acres of grassland and timber areas, Slater said. It also caused char damage to a woodshed near a radio tower and could have threatened the city of Florence had the fire not been extinguished, he said.
“There were two houses on the edge of the fire line,” Slater said, “but we were able to protect them from any damage.”
During the course of the fire, smoke inundated Florence. It also complicated driving conditions on US-77.
Sheriff’s officers were posted on the highway to direct traffic.
“Traffic was flowing through where we had to fight some of the blaze,” Slater said. “We didn’t want an accident.”
Tanker trucks refilled water at a Florence fire hydrant until crews beat the blaze to ashes around 5:30 p.m. using an unknown but large amount of water to extinguish it, Slater said.
Crews went back out to check for hot spots around 9:30 p.m., he said.
“I just want to send big thanks out to all the firefighters and everybody else who helped out,” Slater said. “There were people in Florence who brought us water and sandwiches, and many others who helped in other ways.”
Doel said anyone with information about the fire should call (800)-KS-CRIME.