Lawrence-area fire departments respond to multiple grass fires as burning season begins

photo by: Richard Gwin/Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from March 2016, a land owner conducts a controlled burn on property northwest of Lawrence.

As the weather began to warm up in recent weeks, so have the rural fields of Douglas County.

Many area farmers have begun controlled burns of their crop fields to prepare for the upcoming farming season. But those burns can often grow out of control, necessitating assistance from local fire departments.

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical and other area fire departments this week have responded to multiple such incidents. On Wednesday alone, they responded to 16 rural grass fires that resulted in several buildings being damaged, Administrative Division Chief Tom Fagan told the Journal-World.

However, the high number of grass fires is common this time of year, he said.

“It is a seasonal issue,” Fagan said. “March historically has been a busy time for grass fires in Douglas County and Kansas.”

To help fight the grass fires, Douglas County’s Emergency Operations Center, which directs the fire responses, was activated both on Wednesday and Thursday. Additionally, the county follows the Rangeland Fire Index to help decide when burning is allowed in the county. The index, which is published by the National Weather Service, lists how the local weather conditions affect the estimated danger of burning for each county.

According to the Douglas County website, bans on burning are put in place when the index reaches “very high” or “extreme.” The fire index reached very high Thursday afternoon, but was expected to drop to moderate Friday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service website.

But even when the index considers the danger to be low, grass fires can still get out of control, Fagan said. On Wednesday, the index was listed as moderate, but many out-of-control grass fires still occurred.

“Open burning is still hazardous and inherently has risk, even when burning is allowed,” Fagan said. “Had environmental conditions been worse (Wednesday), the outcomes could have been much worse in the county.”

The county may also determine a local burn ban based on how dry the local weather is and what response resources are available. It may also prohibit burning when the index is listed as high but the forecast includes winds of greater than 15 mph or when the index is low or moderate but the forecast includes winds greater than 20 mph.

The county recommends that those planning a fire call its burn hotline to hear the current status and to report the plans for burning to the county dispatch. The dispatch will ask for the location, time and purpose of the intended burn and the name, address and telephone number of the person responsible.

The county’s burn hotline number is 785-832-5394. For more information, visit the county’s burn regulation and safety page on its website,

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