HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) — The Hutchinson Fire Department plans to set a bunch of fires in February north and east of the town. But it plans to put those fires out, too.

The burning is part of the fire department’s wildfire mitigation plan — by torching dead grass and weeds, there won’t be as much fuel for any wildfires that start later in the year.

Doug Hanen, HFD division chief of operations, says that when new grass grows in the burned areas, the vegetation will have moisture in it and be less likely to burn.

The plan

Firefighters will burn the ditch and right of way from the road to the fence lines along these streets:

File image of a controlled burn in northeast Kansas in 2020. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
  • Plum Street from 69th to 108th Avenues
  • 82nd Avenue from Plum Street to Monroe Street
  • 69th Avenue along the Sandhills State Park
  • 30th Avenue from Obee Road to Kent Road
  • Buhler Road from 4th Avenue to 17th Avenue
  • East 4th Avenue, west of Willison Road
  • Willison Road from 4th Avenue to 17th Avenue

Hanen said the fire crews will put down a line of water before starting the fires to prevent the burning from spreading to other nearby areas. They do not plan to burn on private property. After the fire burns through the right of way, another HFD unit will extinguish it.

The burning will begin on Feb. 3 and end later in the month. The days will depend on the weather, and the fires will usually be from late morning to early afternoon. There will be no burning after dark.

Citizens are asked to use extreme caution in the areas while the firefighters are working. Officers may close some roads for the safety of vehicles and workers. Regarding 30th Avenue, the fire department says they will have it reopened in time for school traffic.

Cottonwood Complex Fire (KSN Photo)

Why now?

The HFD says it chose February because it needs to be done before the aggressive fire season of mid to late March.

Last March, the Cottonwood Complex wildfire east of Hutchinson left one man dead and destroyed 35 homes, 92 outbuildings and 110 vehicles.

According to the HFD and outside agencies, the fire started after a burning brush pile was left unattended and rekindled. It began on March 5 and took about a week before it was fully contained. The county attorney did not file charges in the case, saying there was no intent or probable cause.

How it helps

Hanen said burning the right of way provides a larger buffer during wildfire season. The right of way can be around 20 feet wide on just one side of the road. So burning the right of way on both sides, plus the width of the road can put 100 feet between a wildfire on one side of the road and the other side of the road.

Hanen says it gives crews a tactical advantage. He said getting rid of the brown vegetation also makes it less likely for a passing vehicle to start a fire, either from a tossed cigarette, a dragged chain, or a car backfiring.

He says the February burns will also be good training for the firefighters on starting a controlled burn and putting the fires out.

When the fire crews begin burning land this February, several organizations will be involved, including the Reno County Sheriff’s Office, Reno County Emergency Management, Reno County and Hutchinson Public Works, and the Kansas Forest Service.

Hanen says the department will post daily reports of the areas crews will be burning on the HFD social media pages. Look for those reports on Hutchinson Fire Department’s Facebook page and on its Twitter page.