Fire risk is high, so use extreme caution
Submitted by Stephen Larson
It only takes a spark. That’s the message that Kansas Division of Emergency Management, Department of Agriculture, Office of the State Fire Marshal, Kansas Department of Transportation and Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism officials want Kansans to understand. It only takes one spark to set off a fire that could rage across thousands of acres.
“Current dry weather conditions and high winds have created an extremely high risk for fire,” said Major General Lee Tafanelli, KDEM adjutant general and director. “More than once in recent years, we have seen the devastation that can result from wildfires. Homes have been destroyed, livestock killed, thousands of acres of farmland completely burned, resulting in millions of dollars in economic loss.”
“It is vital that Kansans avoid any activity that could possibly start a fire, such as driving vehicles across dry grass, or using work equipment on dry fields,” Tafanalli said. “As always, be careful that you extinguish any smoking materials completely. Basically, just be cautious when doing anything that might create the spark that starts a catastrophic fire.”
The Department of Agriculture also advises to avoid activities which could create a spark and ignite a fire, like welding or brush hogging, during times of high fire danger.
The Office of the State Fire Marshal adds to always check the weather before burning. Often weather conditions are forecast to change rapidly increasing the risk of a fire spreading out of control.
“KDOT would like to remind the traveling public this year to be mindful of any activity that could cause a spark, including pulling over on the side of a road that has tall grass,” said State Transportation Engineer Catherine Patrick. “If you find yourself driving through an area where a fire has been reported and visibility is reduced, be cautious when driving through heavy smoke and do not pull over near a fire.”
The KDWPT urges anyone spending time outdoors to be especially careful. Never throw burning cigarettes from moving cars. Never drive through tall grass as hot mufflers or catalytic converters can ignite dry grasses. Avoid campfires and burning trash until measurable precipitation falls. And when visiting a state park, state fishing lake or state wildlife area, heed the rules regarding campfires.
The KDEM continues to monitor weather conditions that have sparked several wildfires across the state. KDEM personnel are in contact with county emergency managers to respond with state assistance, if needed.
The State Emergency Operations Center is activated to a level two — partial activation — to coordinate response efforts. Representatives from The Kansas Division of Emergency Management, the Kansas National Guard, the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Kansas Forest Service are in the SEOC.
The Kansas National Guard has placed several Black Hawk helicopters with Bambi buckets on stand-by. The KSNG’s Joint Operations Center was also activated.
Wildfire Safety Tips
• Use caution any time you use fire. Check local weather conditions before burning outdoors. Consult your county emergency manager to see if there is a burn ban for your area.
• Dispose of charcoal briquettes and fireplace ashes properly. Never leave any outdoor fire unattended, and make sure that outdoor fires are fully extinguished and cold to the touch before leaving the area.
• Do not use welders or any equipment that creates sparks outside on dry, windy days.
• Do not park vehicles in tall, dry grass if a fire weather watch or fire weather/red flag warning has been issued. Exhaust systems are very hot and can ignite dry grass.
• Store combustible or flammable materials in approved safety containers away from the house.
• Keep the gas grill and propane tank at least 15 feet away from any structure. Clear a 15-foot area around the grill. Do not use the grill during potentially dangerous fire weather conditions.
• Always have a fire extinguisher or hose nearby.
• Make an emergency plan with your family.
• Maintain detailed records of your belongings, property, livestock, animals.
• Create a defensible space.
• Build home with fire resistant building material.
• Remove flammable material from within 30 feet of home including: removing debris, trash, wood piles, leaves, tall grass, weeds and plants.
• Within 30 to 100 feet, reduce flammable vegetation. Create fuel breaks, such as add driveways and gravel walkways.
• Regularly clean out gutters and roof lines.
• Make sure garden hoses are long enough to reach any area of home. Fill garbage cans and tubs with water.
• Video or record home’s contents and review homeowner’s insurance policy.
• Be ready to evacuate in short notice. Know your evacuation routes.
• Monitor news reports, NOAA all hazard radios and/or Integrated Public Alert and Warning System messaging.
• Call 911 if you see a wildfire and haven’t received an evacuation order yet.
• If evacuating, tell someone where you are going and when you have arrived.
• Return when authorities say it is safe.
• Maintain a fire watch for several hours after the fire.
• Watch for hot spots.
• Evacuate again if you smell smoke.
Terms to Know:
• Fire Weather Watch: when potentially dangerous fire weather conditions are possible over the next 12 to 72 hours.
• Fire Weather Warning or Red Flag Warning: NWS issues a fire weather warning or red flag when fire danger exists and weather patterns that support wildfires are either occurring or expected to occur within 24 hours. Authorities may issue a fire weather watch before a warning, but a warning may also be the initial notification.
• Evacuation Notice: If the danger is imminent, local authorities may issue an evacuation notice to alert residents that a fire is nearby and it is important to leave the area. Evacuation orders vary by state and community and may range from voluntary to mandatory. When authorities issue a mandatory evacuation notice, leave the area immediately.