Archive for Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fires, dry weather force ban on outdoor burning

Officials battle at least 14 grass fires during weekend

February 28, 2006


Firefighting officials are raising the alarm about grass fires, which have been breaking out with abnormal frequency due to an unusually dry winter.

There were at least 14 grass fires over the weekend, plus a 14-acre fire Monday afternoon that fire officials described as "out of control."

To combat the spate of fires, Douglas County officials ordered a burn ban Monday morning, and will likely keep it in place all week.

With no rain in the forecast until the weekend, fire departments are bracing for the possibility of more fires this week with or without a ban on outdoor fires.

"Everything is ripe for ignition," Douglas County Fire Chief Mark Bradford said. "It isn't going to be any better" until it rains or snows.

Local fire departments made the recommendation for a burn ban Monday morning before the Douglas County Commission met to decide it.

"The conditions are pretty apparent to us all," County Commissioner Charles Jones said.

The conditions have been apparent elsewhere, too. Osage County banned outdoor burning this week, and several other counties have banned fires over the winter.

Dry conditions across state

Much of the state is just as dry as Douglas County, Kansas State Fire Fighters Assn. Vice President Christine Standard said Monday. As of now, Kansas counties fall under one of two burn risk levels: high or extremely high.

"Normally, we get some moisture over the winter," Standard said. "It's been especially dry, especially easy" for grass to ignite and fire to spread.

So far, Lawrence and the county have been lucky, Bradford said, because there has been no loss of buildings or life.

Several grass fires have threatened homes and other structures, but a combination of the right winds and plenty of water for firehoses have prevented fires from spreading to buildings.

Last week, a grass fire near new development around Stone Creek crept near homes but never seriously threatened the structures.

But Bradford said a quick change of the wind could have produced different and more damaging results.

"We could have had a quicker spread," he said. "It can change in a matter of seconds."

Elsewhere in the region, uncontrolled grass fires have left buildings and homes smoldering. Unless the weather changes drastically, Bradford said, the fuel for the fires - huge stretches of dry grass - will only grow.

"Any time you continue to have weather like this, it's a matter of when," he said.

Bradford said the rash of grass fires hadn't strained the county's firefighting resources much. It takes water and fuel to respond to a 10-acre fire, but Bradford said extra staffing at fire stations hadn't been needed.

The only change the department considers when answering an alarm, Bradford said, is the amount of first-responders sent to a scene.

"The wind is going to be our key factor," he said.

The more wind there is, the faster a grass fire can spread and the more trucks and firefighters are needed to corral it.

Manpower concerns

For smaller volunteer departments around the state, manpower has been a problem, Standard, from the KSFFA, said.

For those departments, some firefighters come in on their days off to watch the station while a whole shift of firefighters goes out to battle a grass blaze.

And for volunteer departments, an extra ration of grass fires can hurt budgets.

"It ups their expenses they might not have budgeted for," Standard said.

Grass and brush fires also can pose problems fire departments don't typically have to deal with, Standard said.

When a fire spreads over several acres, the flames may cover more than a single firefighting jurisdiction. And big grass fires can require traveling farther and searching harder for the blaze than a structure fire might.

"Just try and stick with the ban," Bradford said. "Be careful."

A wet spell to cool the spate of fires is something forecasters say could happen as soon as Friday. Fire officials are hoping the forecast is on the mark.

"Do you know any good rain dances?" asked Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Don Haynes.


badger 12 years ago

By the way, for those who don't realize:


Driving from KC back to Austin in January, we'd see huge patches of black alongside the road where some ignorant mouth-breather had flicked a lit butt off to the side of the road because he was too blame-stupid to put together 'burn ban' and "I shouldn't throw something on fire out my window." We also saw several drivers doing it, including one who bounced his butt off our windshield and into the grass. We pulled over and stomped out the small fire that had already started from that one.

Yesterday, they lost several hundred acres near San Marcos. Looking at the map, the start point appears to have been along a local highway, and five will get you ten some dumb@$$ didn't want to mess up his nice clean ashtray so he threw a lit butt out the window and it caught.

justthefacts 12 years ago

Does the county ban cover persons acting within the city? Or is this something that the city "fathers" need to also do (pass a burn ban?).....

badger 12 years ago

From yesterday's article:

"The ban, approved this morning by county commissioners, took effect immediately and prohibits building and maintaining an open fire or campfire except in stoves, fireplaces or barbecue grills in developed recreational areas or on home sites."

It doesn't seem to differentiate between city and county. At least here in Texas (we've been under statewide burn ban since before New Year's), it's everyone and everything. No fireworks for New Year's, no open flames, no bonfires, no trash burns, no nothing, inside or outside city limits.

If I remember correctly, when I lived in Lawrence you couldn't have open fires there anyway. Generally, one can't get a burn permit inside city limits, which means no trash and brush burning, and having open fires outside of a grill or fireplace usually requires a burn permit, unless you're just building a campfire in your back yard for some reason. I don't know if that was OK before or if it's OK now.

What I really wonder is how this will affect the homeless community living near the river, that uses open fires for heat and cooking purposes. Will the ban lead to stronger enforcement against them?

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