LARNED — Damages to vehicles in the fire department’s fleet, as well as the cause, suppression and the aftermath of the fire south and east of Garfield last week, were among the items discussed with the Pawnee County Commissioners at their regular meeting Monday morning.
The debriefing session, requested by Joel Davis as interim emergency management director, included county officials from all aspects of the two-day firefight that was assisted by 15 departments with their vehicles across the state including an appearance by an air-tanker contracted to the Kansas Forest Service.
Fire report and mobilization
Davis noted that the call came in at 2:34 p.m. Tuesday from the Garfield Fire Department calling for assistance. Two Pawnee County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to Garfield, while Sheriff Scott King responded to a report from south K-19.
“That was when the ‘fog of war’ set in, because I didn’t know there was another fire call,” Davis said. Another call came in to make three, four and then five fires, from north of the Fort Larned Elementary School to south of Pawnee Rock.
The Garfield fire, which quickly took precedence, originated from a long-established burn pile utilized by the Garfield community near the river that was presumed extinguished prior to the fire start. A shift in the wind Tuesday rekindled the site. Three trucks from Garfield and three from Larned responded to the site; however, the fire followed the fuel opportunity afforded by the river growth and quickly spread in the wind. At the peak of the firefight, between 25-30 trucks with an estimated 100 firefighters from 15 departments, the Southwest Fire Task Force and Sedgwick County Task force, were on scene.
“We incurred all the cost while they were in-county, but with a declaration of emergency, federal funding will be available to reimburse them,” noted Kyle Beckwith, Larned assistant fire chief.
Assistance and support
Davis also contacted support agencies that included an overwhelming local response.
“We had about 35 people bringing stuff within about 30 minutes,” he said.
Sheriff King noted that radio communication was controlled by three dispatchers and county maps were available for arriving out-of-county firefighters.
Locally, the Larned force had three radio systems in use and handheld radios.
“Sedgwick County is decked out with their own repeater system, with the capability for aerial maps that included satellite transmission,” Beckwith explained. “They have the ability to see hotspots after the fire is out.”
Another problem in the field was that crews were impacted by a power outage, which knocked out electricity to the community’s commercial fuel pumps. Chief Leonard Herrman noted that the Co-op then opened their Cardtrol system at Agri-systems to the trucks needing to refuel.
Water supplies, however, were plentiful. “We had access to more than enough water,” Beckwith said. “We had volunteers who brought tanks to the site and we were assisted by the county highway department.”
The end of the first day
Mobile canteens with water and food and lodging space became a priority for the active agencies as the evening approached. Support centers were established on the first floor of the Pawnee County Courthouse and at the Larned Community Center. The Red Cross trailer parked at the LCC was unattended by support staff, leaving others to unpack and set up the bedding area. Showers in the former Larned Armory building were made available as well as volunteer laundry service with towels.
The burn area was estimated at about 8,200 acres, with one residence, a hunting lodge, several outbuildings and 30 cow-calf pairs lost to fire. Beckwith and Herrman noted that two Larned trucks and one Garfield truck were damaged during the firefight and were needing repair. In addition to relocating and digging in the Garfield burn site, the Commissioners would be looking into refurbishing the county’s mobile command center or retrofitting a retired ambulance for that purpose. The J.A. Haas Building at the Pawnee County Fairgrounds, with access to a kitchen area and showers, was being considered as a future support center.
A complete listing of expenses, participants and resource outlets will be developed for future needs. Relief measures and resources for fire victims were also being investigated and collected; representatives from the offices of Sens. Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran had also been in contact with county officials.