Grass fires increasing throughout county

By Gail Parsons
Abilene Reflector Chronicle – February 21, 2017

Photo by Paul Froelich

Photo by Paul Froelich

A sure sign spring is right around the corner are plumes of smoke rising in the distance and the acrid smell of burning fields.

Landowners have started burning, and dry weather has helped sparked numerous small fires around the county.

Dickinson County fire departments have responded to 25 grassfires since Jan. 1, including two on Wednesday afternoon — 10 more than they had during the same time last year.

Dickinson County Emergency Communications Director Russ Wilkins said only five of the fires the county’s fire departments have responded to this year started as controlled burns.

“When it gets really dry and windy, most of them are caused by people throwing out cigarettes, sparks from vehicles and people that are burning trash that blows out of the container,” he said.

To illustrate how quickly and easily a vehicle can cause a grass fire, Wilkins mentioned an incident in January in which a Hesston police vehicle was destroyed. The officer had pulled over just off Interstate 135 for a foot pursuit when the heat of the vehicle ignited the grass and weeds.

“It doesn’t take much to start a fire,” he said.

Dickinson County has 13 fire districts — all but two are manned completely by volunteers.

“Even though they are volunteers, they have a pretty good response rate,” Wilkins said. “But it can be hard for them to keep a good volunteer fire department because it cuts into everyone’s day. So many people work out of town, if you have a good burning grass fire in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, you could be shorthanded.”

In addition to the accidental fires, controlled burns necessary for maintaining healthy pastures and farmland can easily get out of control.

Before a landowner starts a prescribed burn they need to contact the fire district or districts containing the land they intend on burning.

Wilkins said it is all too common for someone to call in after they have started the burn. “Then they find out their fire district is under a burn restriction,” he said.

Even if the weather is forecasted to be conducive to the burns, people who want to burn still need to call in. Sometimes the fire chief in a district will put the area on restriction because he knows, for whatever reason, the volunteers will not be available should the fire get out of control.

It is also helpful for when people who are driving by see what seems to be an unattended fire and calls it in.

“We’ll check our map and see if we have any controlled burns in that area; if we don’t, we’ll send the fire department out,” Wilkins said.

If for no other reason, landowners should call in advance to avoid a potential penalty that could be as much as a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

By the numbers

Grassfires reported in 2015 — 203

Grassfires reported in 2016 — 159

Grassfires reported from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, 2015 — 11

Grassfires reported from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, 2016 — 15

Grassfires reported from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, 2017 — 25

2017 grassfires as a result of controlled burns going out of control — 5.


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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