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Commission OKs county burn ban

Ban to remain until conditions improve

POSTED March 12, 2018 10:19 p.m.
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Last Tuesday as 50 mile-per-hour winds whipped the region, Barton County Register of Deeds Pam Wornkey watched nervously as tongues of flame crackled and smoke billowed just about 100 yards from her home five miles south of Ellinwood.
Fueled by gusts and plentiful dry vegetation, a wildfire engulfed the nearby field. “That was close, too close,” she told the County Commission Monday morning.
It may come as no surprise, but it has been extremely dry and windy in most of Kansas. These conditions have created a fire hazard, Barton County Emergency Manager Amy Miller said Monday.
That, along with stories like the one related by Wornkey, are why Miller and local fire chiefs from around the county asked the County Commission Monday morning to prohibit open burning county-wide.
The commission obliged by declaring a temporary burn ban in rural areas until conditions improve.
Compounding this is the forecast, she said. “Our chances of moisture disappeared over the weekend and now we are looking at seven to 10 days out.”
The ban went into place at noon Monday.
“All outdoor open burning in prohibited, but there would be an exemption for agricultural burning for proper crop and pasture management practices only upon issuance of a written permit by the fire chief having jurisdiction of the area where the burning is to take place,” Miller said.
Violation of this burn ban resolution result in fines of up to $1,000.
Should the area be surprised by rainfall, Miller said the fire chiefs could use their discretion in approving burn permits.
This is also different from burn bans in the past, she said. Previously, they were approved on a week-to-week basis, but this ban remains in place until rescinded.

It only takes one
“This keeps everyone safer,” said Ellinwood City Manager Chris Komarek, who also as that city’s fire chief. His department responded to two grass fires last week, including the one that threatened Wornkey’s home.
Both of these fires started as controlled burns of brush piles that took place 10 days prior to the fires, he said. Embers smoldered until the high winds set them free.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had any grass fires in the last couple weeks,” said Great Bend Fire Chief Luke McCormick. But, his crews did respond to assist with the Ellinwood blazes and to one near Claflin.
“There’s more vegetation this year,” Claflin Fire District Fire Chief Doug Hubbard said. “There is a lot of fuel.”
The state has already witnessed fires reminiscent of the destructive fires that ravaged large swaths of Kansas last year, he said. There is the potential for conditions to be worse this year.
“If nothing else, this increases awareness,” Hubbard said. He urged residents, especially those in rural areas, to remove old evergreens and other plant debris from around their homes.
“This is something we have to plan for, like tornadoes or bad weather,” Miller said.
Meanwhile, “I personally want to thank the three fire chiefs from the bottom of my heart,” Wornkey said. She also thanked the county for allowing the water tanker truck that was allowed to be at the fire scene.
“I watched those firefighters at work,” she said. “I saw what can happen.”


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