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Storms, tornadoes rake Midwest as high winds fuel prairie fires
March 6, 2017 / 11:05 PM / in 4 months

Storms, tornadoes rake Midwest as high winds fuel prairie fires

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A line of thunderstorms packing hail and isolated tornadoes rumbled across the Midwest from Oklahoma to Minnesota on Monday as wind-fueled prairie fires forced thousands of people from their homes in Colorado and Kansas.

Police and National Weather Service meteorologists reported some power outages but no initial major damage from the storms carrying winds of 60 miles per hour (96 kph) and hail 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter as they rolled east.

A tornado touched down in Smithville, Missouri, a Kansas City suburb, damaging 10 to 12 homes and displacing a few families but causing no major injuries, Police Chief Jason Lockridge said.

"Rain was minimal, it was just high winds and what was described as a funnel cloud," he said in a telephone interview.

Areas of eastern Missouri and Iowa and western Illinois were under a tornado watch until early on Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said.

The storms were largely to the east of an area stretching from the Texas Panhandle into Colorado, Nebraska and western Missouri that was under a "red flag" weather service warning for fires because of high winds, warm temperatures and dry conditions.

Twenty counties in central Kansas reported brush fires on Monday, some more than one, fueled by winds gusting to up 60 mph, said Katie Horner, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General's Department.

Ten towns were forced to evacuate residents because of the fire threat, including 10,000 to 12,000 from the city of Hutchinson, she said.

Helicopters from the Kansas National Guard were being used to dump water on the fires, she said. "It's just a massive undertaking," Horner said.

A prairie fire in northeast Colorado had burned about 25,000 acres (10,100 hectares), and officials said about 1,000 people in small farming towns were under evacuation or pre-evacuation orders.

Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago, Keith Coffman in Denver and Ian Simpson in Washinton; Editing by James Dalgleish and Paul Tait

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