Fire crews from across Kansas battle blaze, saving homes

By Amy Bickel
Hutchinson News – March 7, 2017

Photo by Jason Froese, Burrton Fire Department. Click on photo to view full-size.

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Totally spent and covered in soot, Scott Martin had just been fighting fires for more than 16 hours.

The Burrton volunteer firefighter finally was getting a break – heading home for a shower and rest.

Firefighters from across the state descended on Hutchinson – helping fight the massive wildlife burning pastures and threatening homes.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, more than 230 responders still were working to contain the fire, representing 116 agencies, said Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson.

Some came as far as Wakarusa, near Lawrence, as well as Kansas City and Oakley. They brought large trucks, some carrying 3,000 gallons of water to help contain and put out the fire.

Martin, along with Burrton resident Jason Froese, was relieved midmorning by another crew of Burrton volunteers.

They had a few short breaks but largely worked nonstop.

“We were lighting a back burn along 61 (highway),” Martin said.

The back burn was more than two miles long.

The efforts helped. There were homes that burned. There were many that were saved, said Brad Thompson, who owns Bridgeman Oil. He heard the stories from the firefighters as he filled up trucks with fuel all night the past two nights.

“They have done a good job, and I think it is a miracle they haven’t lost a lot more,” he said as he filled up fire trucks at the Hutchinson Fire Department headquarters.

Colwich Fire Chief Brad Banz answered the call last night after hearing more crews were needed. He and another Colwich firefighter were stationed at the Highlands, fighting the fire and working to keep homes safe.

“Some houses did burn,” he said. “There were a lot of homes that did get saved.”

Crews pulled up to one home with the porch on fire and were able to put it out.

“I think they doing a great job,” Thompson said. “One crew just left said they had been here 17 hours and are going home. New crews are coming in. It’s amazing all the fire departments that have all showed up from everywhere.”

While many went home to take a break, others got sleep at the Salvation Army at Seventh Avenue and Main Street, said Salvation Army Major Penny Mungai.

The night before, the more than 35 cots in the building’s gymnasium were full – most from outlining areas. She slept in the nursery with her daughter, waking up to help where she was needed.

“They look haggard,” she said of the firefighters. “They looked exhausted.”

Many came in, their faces black, found a shower, some food and went to bed for four or five hours of sleep.

Others were preparing to find comfort in their own beds. Cheney volunteer firefighter Wade McGuffey said their crew of four had put in 17 hours and were preparing to go home. They put in another 14 hours Sunday night.

Monday night he helped shuttle water to brush trucks.

“I’ve fought several large grass fires, but nothing like this,” he said, adding that “it’s really devastating.”

Thompson didn’t’ know what his day would bring. He expected to be called to move north of 30th Avenue. Last night, he was stationed at Plum Creek Elementary on 43rd Avenue.

“I just fuel up fire trucks and keeping them going,” he said. “There is a lot of equipment out here.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
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