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This week marks Wildfire Awareness Week
Local, state fire officials urge caution when burning outdoors
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Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signs a proclamation designating Feb. 4-8 as Kansas Wildfire Awareness Week in the governor’s ceremonial Topeka Statehouse office last Friday. - photo by

Wildland fires are on the rise nationwide, and in Kansas alone an average of 110,000 acres of land is burned due to wildfires each year, Great Bend Fire Department Battalion Chief John Stettinger said.  

To call attention to this, the Office of the Kansas State Fire Marshal has declare this as Wildfire Prevention Week. The observation concludes Friday.

“Many different factors can cause the start of a wildland fire,” Stettinger said. According to National Fire Protection statistics, nearly 95 percent of all wildfires across the country result from activities of people. 

“Kansas, like any other state, is susceptible to wildfires,” said Sen. Tom Hawk who joined Gov. Laura Kelly in signing the state proclamation last Friday in Topeka. “Wildfires can easily get out of hand. One of the critical pieces of combating wildfires is that we have people at the local level who are trained and have the right equipment to fight those fires. Because every minute that passes means that a wildfire can become a real disaster.”

The 2019 wildfire season is projected to have an earlier start with a slight increase in predicted fire weather events in the southwest and central areas of the state, state officials said. This is the same area that experienced significant fires in the last three years, including the Starbuck and Anderson Creek fires, burning over 800,000 acres at a cost of more than $80 million.

Where are the dangers?

Some of the activities included are open burning of cropland, trees and brush piles, campfires, barbecuing and discarded cigarettes. While wildfires can occur at any time during the year, the months of February and March are commonly very dangerous times. This increased danger is due to the fact that grasslands and other vegetation have not greened up, which means that it will catch fire and spread quickly.

“March is also a dangerous time because it is known as the start of the ‘windy season,’” Stettinger said. Small grass fires occurring when wind speeds exceed 15 mph can spread across an open field very quickly. This causes great difficulties for local fire departments when fighting the fires and trying to keep them contained.

“It is important to remember that most wildland fires are caused by the actions of humans and are preventable,” Stettinger said. “We ask that everyone be aware of the conditions and stay vigilant if they are burning.”

Wildland fires are extremely dangerous and costly. “If you or anyone you know plans on burning please remember to be prepared and to never leave a controlled burn, big or small, unattended at any time,” he said.

The Great Bend Fire Department offers these fire safety tips to help prevent wildland fires:

• Local burn permits are required and can be obtained from the local fire chief.

• Check the forecast before burning.  

• 911 Communications MUST be contacted through their administrative line at 620-793-1920 prior to all burning. They will provide you with the current wind speed and wind direction to ensure conditions are safe for burning. They will also obtain the exact location of the burn.

• Have proper equipment ready, garden hoses or a water supply, to use in case fire begins to spread.

• Make sure burn piles are kept small and are located a safe distance away from all structures and outbuildings.

• If burning cropland remember that the smoke can cause traffic hazards by blowing across roads or highways.