‘Red Flag’ conditions keep firefighters busy

By Jason Tarr
KAKE – March 31, 2014


On a windy Sunday afternoon, Marquita Spengler got a knock on her door in Winfield. It was her neighbor and he had some alarming news.

“He said, ‘Your barn is on fire!'” Marquita said.

About four hours later, the charred frame of that barn continued to smolder as Marquita looked on with her son Blaine. Flames crept out in between pieces of metal as the wind whipped the smoke around them.

The barn is just steps away from Marquita’s home which sits near Highway 160 and 111th Street. She says her family began using the barn in the late 1960’s as a dairy barn. But lately, she says, it’s been used for storage.

“We had hay in the barn and had a lot of structural building material,” Blaine said.

The family says firefighters told them the fire likely started when wind helped reignite a local pasture burn from the day before.

“With the wind, it picked it up and rekindled it and blew sparks into more dry grass,” Blaine said.

Cowley County dispatchers say that scenario played out over and over Sunday. Wind and warmer temperatures had created a Red Flag Warning.

“There’s black ground everywhere where one little fire after another got into a bigger fire,” Blaine said.

The fires stretched from Cowley County north to Shawnee County and Lyon County.

In Lyon County, crews worked around the clock to tame the flames that were popping up. The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department kept the community up to date by posting pictures and information on its Twitter account.

In Shawnee County, a fire in Silver Lake charred more than 1500 acres and destroyed two homes.

“I suggest that anyone, anyone, that has any type of thinking about outdoor burning to not do that at this particular time given the hazards we have with the conditions out here,” Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones told WIBW, KAKE’s sister station in Topeka.

The Spenglers in Winfield know first-hand how dangerous those conditions can be. They say they’re thankful the fire didn’t reach Marquita’s home.

“I just appreciate all the neighbors and the fire department and all the help we’ve had,” Marquita said.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster

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