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County burn ban remains
But, ban to be reviewed regularly
landfill fire
Shown is an example of a fire at the Barton County Landfill. The landfill has its own fire truck and thermal cameras to help combat a growing number of fires, caused mostly by the disposal of lithium ion batteries.

Steps taken to reduce fires at landfill

Last June, a fire at the Barton County Landfill severely damaged a much-used Cat 826K compactor to the tune of $210,608.78. The County Commission Tuesday morning approved payment to Foley Equipment of Salina for the extensive repairs.

The blaze that damaged the compactor was not a freak incident. Over the last several years, the facility has experienced more of the fires due to the disposal of lithium ion batteries which, when broken, get very hot and can trigger a flammable chemical reaction.

“These fires have cost a lot,” commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3, said. But, steps have been taken to lessen the problem.

“We have done quite a bit,” Solid Waste Director Phil Hathcock said. The county purchased a used fire truck from Claflin that is stationed at the landfill and have installed thermal cameras that can alert officials to hot spots after hours.

They have also gotten the word out about the dangers of throwing away these batteries, Hathcock said. He is also waiting to hear if they will receive a Kansas Department of Health and Environment grant for additional public awareness efforts.

The landfill does recycle lithium ion batteries.

As for the compactor, Barton County submitted an insurance claim for the fire damage. The insurance covered all but about $8,100 of the repairs.

As the gale-force winds of Dec. 15 lashed at the Barton County Courthouse, county commissioners during a special meeting approved a weather-related burn ban that would remain in place until revoked by the commission.

As of this week, that prohibition remained in place.

However, “we received an angry email from a resident in the southern part of the county,” commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 2, said during the commission meeting Tuesday morning. The person was upset by “the commissioners overreach of power” regarding the ban.

“We didn’t do that on our own,” Hutchinson said. It was enacted at the request of nervous local fire chiefs across the county, worried not only about the winds, but also the prevailing dry conditions – conditions that linger.

He said he wasn’t going to argue with the fire officials, all of whom still see the ban as necessary. 

District 4 Commissioner Jim Daily said the area has seen snow recently. But, that doesn’t mean the tinder-dry state has been alleviated.

Kirby Krier, who represents District 1, asked if there was a compromise. He asked if it was possible for a fire chief to override the ban on a case-by-case basis.

“There is a reason to burn,” said Kirby who farms near Claflin. These include federal Conservation Reserve Program and other requirements.

But, the window to do this burning is a small one, he said. It mostly has to be done in the spring to avoid interfering with the nesting of wildlife.

But, one-time exemptions from the ban are not allowed, county officials said. Besides, all fire chiefs in the county still support it.

It was the consensus of the commission to receive weekly updates from Emergency Risk Manager Amy Miller regarding the ban. This way, commissioners have an opportunity to rescind it should it be advisable.

Up until just a few years ago, burn bans were approved on a week-to-week basis. But, this process became burdensome because if a ban was lifted and conditions worsened, the commission would have to wait a week or call a special meeting to respond.