During the early days of March 2017, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska suffered a series of on-going wildfires. Kansas had the most significant losses, decidedly the worst fires in recent Kansas history.

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Losses were significant, with a minimum of 650,000 acres burned, 5,000 cattle perished, and $36 million worth of fencing destroyed. Covering 20 counties and impacting approximately 70,000 people, the wildfires resulted in one death, 11 injuries, more than 40 homes destroyed, hundreds of farm buildings and structures destroyed, and dozens of homes impacted.

Despite the size of the disaster, there has not been a full damage assessment. The remote area lacks the regional capacity to assess damages and coordinate efforts on behalf of the limited NGOs working there. As a result, little to nothing has been done to address unmet needs or to understand who was vulnerable to the impact of these fires.

The Midwest Early Recovery Fund has stepped forward to support Catholic Charities of Southwest Missouri in developing and performing a needs assessment of those impacted by the fires. The needs assessment will include information about uninsured losses, mental health needs, business losses, children and family needs, and emotional and spiritual needs, etc.

The proposed project will begin with Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas working with Western Kansas Statistical Lab to develop a comprehensive household needs assessment tool and process. The end result of the assessment will be a report that agencies, foundations, partners, and long-term recovery committees can use to develop the resources necessary for recovery.

Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas plans to share this tool with others once they have evaluated and made any adjustments needed from this ‘pilot’ project. The audience for this tool/methodology will be rural communities and communities impacted by fires that lack assessment data to understand impact and the need for recovery resources.

As wildfires become more prevalent in the region, this valuable pilot program will greatly increase the Midwest Early Recovery Fund’s ability and that of our partners to evaluate impact and develop resources accordingly.