• Last modified 798 days ago (March 11, 2020)


Tested by grass fires

Departments work together to keep big blazes under control as high winds, dry weather boost fire threat

Warm weather and wind gusts of up 54 miles per hour dried out plenty of fuel for more than 20 grass fires that raged in Marion County this past week.

Firefighters with Marion fire department, among the busiest, have battled area blazes, sometimes for hours, as high winds turned a volunteer effort into a near full-time job for its 17-member force.

“It’s starting to feel like that,” said Marion city fire chief Preston Williams on Monday. “I am definitely happy to see some rain today.”

After nearly two weeks with no rain, the threat of fire in the dried-out grasslands was bad enough to prompt the National Weather Service to issue red flag warnings this past Thursday and over the weekend, said Eric Metzger, forecaster with the department in Wichita.

Low moisture and winds of more than 30 or 40 miles per hour can cause any fire to rage of control, he said.

“It basically means you should not be burning, period,” he said. “And don’t be throwing cigarettes out your window, because that will start a fire in those conditions.”

Area fire chiefs heeded this weekend’s extreme fire threat by asking the county’s dispatchers enact the same automatic aid protocol used during structure fires, Hillsboro fire chief Ben Steketee said.

That meant the three nearest departments, were called to any grass fire.

Peabody fire chief Mark Penner said departments will normally assess the scene before asking for help fighting a grass fire.

“That was really beneficial to us Sunday,” he said. “We could just start attacking the fire because we knew other resources were coming in. Water, that’s the biggest thing in a country grass fire. You can use up water really quick,” he said.

Marion County emergency manager Randy Frank also contacted the state and was given permission to call in Kansas National Guard helicopters if needed.

All three department chiefs were pleased with the role cooperation played in putting out some large fires. They included:

  • An out-of-control grass fire that burned Wednesday near 230th and US-77.
  • A Saturday evening grassfire that scorched 60 to 80 acres near 260th and Sunflower Rds.
  • A grass fire Sunday near 50th and Pawnee Rds. and one near 330th and US-77.

Some of those blazes were rekindled from controlled burns conducted when winds were calm and burning was allowed, Penner said. High winds rekindled the embers later and blew them into the tall grass.

“It caught the grass on fire really quick,” he said, adding that he was grateful for the decision to adopt mutual aid during the crisis.

Fire departments also have the option of enacting a temporary burn ban during a grassfire if firefighter’s resources have reached their limit, Steketee said.

“We set up the situation so we can gain control,” he said. “Our drive is to get it put out as quickly as we possibly can before it can become something that is unimaginable.”

Williams said he is thankful the fire danger has mostly passed with the ½ inch of rain that fell Monday, but would like to remind people to check the fire risk with county dispatchers before they burn.

“Check, so we are not setting ourselves up for failure,” he said. “Call in your controlled burns.”

Last modified March 11, 2020