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One person still missing as fire crews work to contain Reno County fire

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HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KWCH) – Search teams in Reno County are still looking for a person reported missing as wildfires continue to burn. In a Sunday morning briefing, Hutchinson Fire Department Chief Steven Beer described search efforts and what fire crews have been up against in the past 24 hours.

Beer says search teams are performing grid search patterns through the area where they believe the person may be located. They have been in contact with the person’s family and are working with other members of Kansas Task Force 5, a group of emergency responders who specialize in search and rescue operations.

Chief Beer says in addition, two people suffered burns and sought medical treatment.

Fighting and containing this fire has been brutal. Saturday’s extreme winds, coupled with the dry conditions and terrain in the area has made containing this fire tough. Beer says as of Sunday morning, the fire is “nowhere near being contained”. He says it will take fire crews several days to get it under control. Beer says 98 percent of the wildfire is in Reno County. He says the fire was so large it appeared to create its own windstorm and looked like a huge thundercloud that could be seen from miles away.

Fire officials do not yet have a total on how many homes and other property were damaged or destroyed.

“Crews tried so hard to save homes,” said Beer. He says each firefighter knows what’s at stake – not only the physical property but photos and personal items that are irreplaceable. He talked about ways homeowners who live in high fire risk areas can mitigate the risk.

“Some people listen and some people don’t,” said Beer. “Some homes are just indefensible.”

Beer also talked about seeing burned vehicles sitting in the middle of roads where the drivers were trying to make it out but had to abandon their plan as fire swept over the roads. Fire crews made numerous rescues and Beer says he feels fortunate as of now, no firefighters have been hurt. He describes fire trucks being so close to the flames and heat that emergency lights, taillights, and hoses melted.

“We need equipment,” said Beer. “At times it felt like going into a gunfight with a knife.”

Firefighting aircraft will be working in this area so drones are prohibited from flying. Beer has asked people to stay out of the damaged area while crews continue to do their work.

Beer says crews are getting close to determining how the fire started. Reno County was not under a burn ban until Sunday. He is concerned about another mid-week fire risk.

If you want to help, crews could use water and Gatorade as they continue working the fire. Donations can be dropped off at 3201 E. 4th Street in Hutchinson. That location is serving as the command post.

If you want to donate money, the United Way of Reno County is collecting monetary donations to help those who lost homes and property. You can either call 211 or mail money to the United Way of Reno County at 924 N. Main Street, Hutchinson, KS 67501.

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