Fires taking their toll on county firefighters

By Charity Keitel
Osawatomie Graphic – April 2, 2014

Emergency Management Coordinator Doug Barlet told Linn County commissioners Monday that fires are quickly getting the better of county firefighters, who are worn out from having to fight fires day after day without stop.

“We’re just beating the firemen down,” Barlet said. “They’re not getting any breaks.”

A fire ban will continue in Linn County until further notice, he said.

Barlet said there have been 156 uncontrolled burns in March alone. For the year thus far, there have been more than 200. Over the weekend, there were more than a dozen.

“It’s just nonstop, day and night,” he continued. “People are not controlling it (fire).

“In my mind, it’s becoming a problem that we’ll have to find a solution for.”

A short-term solution would be to call for a block fire ban, which means a ban will be in place for at least seven days, regardless of whether the weather is optimal for burning or not.

“I know that’s going to create some concerns with the community, but I don’t know what else to do,” Barlet said.

“We’ve got to give our fire service men a break.”

Part of the problem is caused by embers hiding in dead logs or under dense brush that are rekindling on windy days.

Barlet said that even when residents are burning on open burn days, the embers continue to smolder until a stray gust of wind, usually overnight or the next day — sometimes during a ban — sets them aflame.

“Once it gets into the timber, for us, it’s almost impossible to get out,” he said. “It’s miserable.”

Firefighters are also seeing problems on days with optimal burning conditions, he added.

The solution is far from simple.

“We’ll just have to adjust and adapt,” he said.

Yet, the countywide fire crisis is causing other problems as well.

Barlet said that from the middle of February to the middle of March, costs have continued to climb.

“Payroll, maintenance and fuel are the big ones (costs),” he said.

Already, those three items have reached more than $20,000, and March’s costs haven’t been completely tallied.

“We’ll have to keep monitoring it,” he said.

The commission was quick to commend the firefighters and emergency personnel for their efforts.

“The fire department’s doing a great job,” Commissioner Vicki Leonard said. “We really appreciate them.”

As part of its fire counter-measures, the commission adhered to the March 24 decision that allows Barlet to call for fire bans from day to day for as long as necessary at his discretion.

Residents who burn within county limits are subject to Resolution No. 14-007, regarding burn guidelines and limitations.

One section of the recently passed resolution states:

“Violation of this resolution, upon conviction, may be punishable by a fine up to $1,000 per day of violation per location. In addition, violators may be required to pay restitution for all damages done by a fire set in violation of this resolution and may be required to reimburse the county and its mutual aid partners for the costs associated with fighting said fires.”

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster