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Headlines for Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Wildfires Consume 625 Square Miles 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) (AP) — Authorities say wildfires have burned about 625 square miles in Kansas, damaging dozens of structures and forcing thousands to evacuate. Kansas Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Katie Horner says 10,000 to 12,000 people voluntarily evacuated their homes Monday night in Reno County. She says 66 people were in shelters this (TUE) morning in Hutchinson as crews continued fighting wildfires that started over the weekend. The largest of the blazes is burning in rural southwest Kansas' Clark County, where about 545 square miles has burned. Horner says 30 structures have been damaged, and bridges have been compromised. That fire is now 61 percent contained. Evacuations also have been ordered in Russell, and Comanche counties. Horner says all but four of the state's 105 counties are under red-flag warnings of critical wildfire conditions. The National Weather Service says dry, shifting winds, with gusts of up to 60 mph will complicate the firefight. Governor Sam Brownback has signed a state of disaster emergency.  Read more about this story here.

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Kansas Governor Warns That Fire Danger Persists
 
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is urging people not to burn anything outside or have barbeques because of the dangers of fires across the state. Brownback noted during a news conference Tuesday that 98 percent of the state is under a warning for extreme fire danger. Kansas officials say about 625 square miles of land in the state has burned and they are worried that more wildfires might ignite Wednesday. Brownback also urged people in the nine counties where fires are burning not to travel if they can avoid it. State officials don't have any damage estimates yet, but Brownback says he's worried there could be significant losses of livestock.

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Kansas Asks Other States for Firefighting Help 

STERLING, Colo. (AP) —  Governor Sam Brownback says Kansas has asked Wyoming and South Dakota for equipment to help fight wildfires that have burned hundreds of square miles of land in his state. Brownback told reporters Tuesday that 10 communities in the state saw residents evacuated at least temporarily Monday and Tuesday as fires burned about 625 square miles. Most the area burned was in Clark County, in southern Kansas. But between 10,000 and 12,000 people left their homes in Reno County because of a fire north of Hutchinson, which is about 40 miles northwest of Wichita. Brownback says Kansas is asking Wyoming to send helicopters for dropping water and South Dakota to send communications equipment. He's says he's concerned that the dry, windy conditions will continue for another day or two and could return later in the spring.

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Livestock Group Presses Relief Bid in Wake of Wildfires

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Livestock Association is launching a relief effort for ranchers affected by wildfires that have scorched hundreds of square miles of land in the state. The group said Tuesday it is accepting donations of feed, fencing supplies and cash for the ranchers who've lost fencing, forage resources, harvested feed and an undetermined number of cattle in the blazes. The association says ranch homes and outbuildings also were among the losses. Donations may be made by contacting the association, with cash contributions payout through the Kansas Livestock Foundation, the association's charitable arm. You can also click here to go directly to the online donation page. 

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Nearly 500 Homes, Businesses Damaged in Missouri Storms

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Emergency officials in Oak Grove, Missouri, say nearly 500 homes and businesses sustained some damage after tornadoes and severe storms raked the area. Sni Valley Fire Protection District Chief Carl Scarborough says 483 homes were damaged in Oak Grove during Monday night's storms. Scarborough says 10 to 12 commercial buildings also were damaged and 12 people were treated for injuries by emergency crews. Three people were taken to hospitals although none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening. Oak Grove Mayor Jeremy Martin praised the work of emergency responders and said "it's rather amazing" there were no serious injuries or deaths based on the extent of the damage in the area. In Smithville, north of Kansas City, Police Chief Jason Lockridge says 20 to 25 homes were damaged. Damage was also reported to planes and hangars at the Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe, Kansas. The website for Kansas City Power & Light showed about 40,000 customers without power early Tuesday. That's down from more than 100,000 late Monday night. Meteorologists say the massive, late-winter storm system spawned tornadoes, baseball-sized hail and damaging winds in an area stretching from Oklahoma to Wisconsin. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, says it received 32 reports of tornadoes Monday and early Tuesday in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. 

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Kansas Lawmakers Kill Bill with GOP Governor's Tax Proposals 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have killed a bill containing Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals to raise tobacco and liquor taxes to help fix the state's serious budget problems. The GOP-controlled state Senate voted 37-1 to kill the bill Tuesday. Senate President Susan Wagle and other top Republicans had predicted there would be little support for Brownback's proposals. Lawmakers so far are focusing on closing projected budget shortfalls totaling more than $1 billion through June 2019 by rolling back past income tax cuts championed by Brownback. The Legislature passed an income tax bill last month but Brownback vetoed it. The bill rejected by the Senate also contained Brownback's proposal to increase annual filing fees paid by for-profit businesses. Some senators said debating proposals with so little support was a waste of time.

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Kansas Senate's Top Leader Criticizes GOP Governor on Taxes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's top Republican is criticizing GOP Governor Sam Brownback for failing to offer new proposals for raising taxes to fix the state budget. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita said Tuesday Brownback is refusing to provide solutions to the state's budget problems. Wagle made her comments ahead of a debate on a bill containing proposals from Brownback to raise tobacco and liquor taxes and annual business filing fees. The Senate was expected to reject most or all of Brownback's proposals. Wagle said lawmakers want Brownback to outline new ideas. The bill would only partially close projected shortfalls totaling more than $1 billion through June 2019. Lawmakers last month passed a bill to boost income taxes but Brownback vetoed it. Brownback's office did not immediately respond to Wagle's comments.

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Tax Hike Appears Inevitable After Kansas Supreme Court Ruling on School Funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A big tax increase for Kansas appears inevitable as the state wrestles with budget problems. Even many Republicans are focused on rolling back past income tax cuts that are widely regarded as Governor Sam Brownback's biggest political legacy. A state Supreme Court ruling this week that the state isn't spending enough money on its public schools only bolstered many lawmakers' support for raising income taxes. The court directed legislators to enact a new school funding law by June 30 without setting a spending target. Lawmakers have been circulating figures involving hundreds of millions of new dollars. Democrats and moderate Republicans already were looking at boosting income taxes to close projected budget shortfalls totaling more than $1 billion through June 2019. Kansas legislators are also considering whether to increase tobacco taxes. The Senate plans to debate a bill today (TUE) that contains Governor Brownback's proposals to raise taxes on cigarettes, other tobacco products, liquor, wine and beer. The bill also would increase annual filing fees for businesses. Top Senate Republicans do not believe Brownback's proposals have much support. 

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Judge Delays Trial in Kansas Bomb Plot Case Against Somalis 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has delayed until summer the trial against three men accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex and mosque used by Somali immigrants in western Kansas. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren on Tuesday scheduled the trial for June 13. It had previously been set to start April 25. Prosecutors allege Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen plotted to detonate truck bombs at an apartment complex where 120 Somali immigrants live in the meatpacking town of Garden City. They have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. The delay was requested by Wright and Allen so as to give defense attorneys and experts more time to digest the government's evidence. Stein has opposed a delay and complained about the pace of disclosures.

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Olathe Bar Shooting Suspect Asked Victims About Immigration Status

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — An Indian man wounded in an apparently racially motivated shooting that killed his friend at a suburban Kansas City bar has told detectives the gunman asked if their "status was legal." Johnson County court officials released a redacted affidavit Monday for 51-year-old Adam Purinton, who is charged with murder and attempted murder in the February 22 shooting at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe. The shooting killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla and wounded his friend, Alok Madasani. The FBI is investigating the incident as a hate crime. The affidavit says Purinton was escorted out of the bar after confronting the two Indian men then returned about 30 minutes later and opened fire with a handgun. A third man, Ian Grillot, was wounded when he intervened.

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Former Kansas Town's Clerk Gets Prison Time for Embezzling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A former Kansas city clerk has been sentenced to a year and four months in federal prison for embezzling more than $100,000 from a real estate company and bilking her town of more than $75,000. Forty-two-year-old Janetta Marie Buttery of Bennington also was ordered Monday in Topeka to pay $184,000 in restitution. Bennington pleaded guilty in December to one count of interstate transportation of stolen funds, admitting that as Bennington's clerk from October 2014 to May of last year she misused credit cards belonging to the city and its recreation commission. Buttery already had pleaded guilty to charges that she embezzled $109,000 while she worked as a secretary, bookkeeper and executive assistant at Realty Associates of Salina. 

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General Mills Boosts Eco-Friendly Grain Kernza

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ A sweet, nutty-tasting new grain called Kernza is getting a big boost from General Mills. The giant food company is intrigued by the potentially big environmental benefits of a drought-resistant crop with long roots that doesn't need to be replanted every year. General Mills is partnering with the Kansas-based Land Institute and the University of Minnesota to commercialize Kernza, a wild relative of wheat. It plans to incorporate it into cereals and snacks under its Cascadian Farm organic brand. Kernza comes from the perennial intermediate wheatgrass plant. Its dense roots extend over 10 feet deep. This represents the second but largest major move to commercialize Kernza. Patagonia Provisions last fall rolled out Long Root Ale, which is sold at Whole Foods stores on the West Coast, using Kernza from Minnesota.  

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Report: Kansas Winter Wheat Condition Mixed Amid Warm, Dry Weather

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ An early snapshot of winter wheat fields in Kansas shows wide variations as the majority of the state remains warm and dry. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 22 percent of the wheat crop in Kansas is in poor to very poor condition. About 35 percent is rated as fair with 43 percent in good to excellent condition. Rain and hail were reported in only a few southeastern counties this past week. Elsewhere, high winds are raising concerns of wildfires. Topsoil moisture is rated as short to very short across 62 percent of the state. Livestock producers are now in the midst of their calving and lambing seasons. The agency is reporting calving progress as 42 percent, while lambing is 55 percent finished. 
      
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Kansas Keeps Number 1 Spot in Latest AP Poll

UNDATED (AP) - Kansas, Villanova, UCLA and Gonzaga held onto the top four spots in The Associated Press college basketball poll. The Jayhawks (28-3) are No. 1 for the second week in a row. They received 59 first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel. Villanova (28-3) was No. 1 on two ballots while UCLA (28-3) got three first-place votes. Gonzaga (30-1) received the other first-place vote. Oregon and North Carolina exchanged places at fifth and sixth while Arizona stayed seventh. The season's final poll will be released March 13.

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KU Hoops Star Bill Hougland Dies

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas basketball standout Bill Hougland, who led the Jayhawks to the 1952 national title before becoming the first player to win two Olympic basketball gold medals, died Monday. He was 86. The university announced that Hougland had died in Lawrence. No cause was given. Hougland played in 77 games for coach Phog Allen during his three-year college career. Along with a national title, Hougland helped the Jayhawks win Big Seven titles in 1950 and 1952. He was among seven Kansas players who helped the U.S. win gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, then was part of the team that repeated its golden performance at the 1956 Melbourne Games. After his playing career, Hougland served in the Air Force and worked in the oil industry. He also remained close to his alma mater, donating more than $1.2 million to the school.
 

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