WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Warm, dry and windy conditions across parts of Kansas on Friday and Saturday have some concerned for the risk of fires.
The National Weather Service in Wichita reported very high grassland fire danger levels through Friday afternoon and a “watch” for southeast Kansas through the day due to drier conditions.
KSN spoke with Jim Wilson, a Battalion Chief for the Wichita Fire Department, to find out how crews are preparing for the threat.
Small grassfires have already made an appearance in the Wichita area, Wilson said. Many of which, are started when people make poor decisions like tossing out cigarette butts on the road.
“Just coming to work in the morning and driving down Kellogg, you see it all the time,” Wilson said. “We just had on K-96 between Hillside and Oliver probably three weeks ago and that was obvious that somebody had pitched a cigarette butt out on K-96, so yes, it’s a real threat.”
Each morning, Wilson and his team refer to the weather report to determine whether the area is at a level one, two or three threat.
That’s all based on factors like temperature, humidity and wind speed, Wilson said.
Lately, the area has remained at a threat level two, which means the fire department will send a few extra units and a battalion chief to each grass fire they get called to.
They also prepare to help the county out with larger fires like the Anderson Creek Wildfire of 2016.
While the WFD doesn’t have brush trucks like rural departments do, they can help fight larger rural fires by keeping the fire from jumping the road and looking for any structures that might be in danger.
“We train a little differently because we’re structural firefighting experts. We’re not grass fire fighting experts by any means,” Wilson said. “Your rural fire departments; Sedgwick County Fire Department and your volunteer guys do a really really food job at grass fires ‘cause that’s what they do almost every day, as to where we’re fighting structural fires every day.”
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot people can do to prevent damage from large, rural wildfires.
“Once it’s traveling, and as fast as it travels, if the wind is blowing and it’s coming in your area, you know, the best thing they can do is evacuate and get out of harm’s way,” Wilson said.
In the metro area, things look a little different because of how close people live to one another, especially in apartments.
“You’re at the mercy. When you live in an apartment, you can be as safe as possible but you’re only as safe as your neighbor is beside you,” Wilson said.
A common issue with apartment fires comes down to decks, which are often made of wood, he said. The problem comes into play when people aren’t careful with the cigarette butts or ignore the ordinance banning grills and barbeques from decks.
That’s why education is a huge part of fighting fires during the dry season, Wilson said.
“We try to do this through public education; our district advisory board meetings, our neighborhood association meetings and just tell people and stress that we are dry, this is a time of year that does happen and to be more careful,” he said. “Don’t pitch your cigarette butts out the window while you’re driving down the interstate, be careful if you’ve got your smoker or grill going and just be aware of extra precautions.”