Franklin County fire officials are bracing for what could be one of the worst wildfire seasons on record.
Thomas Winter, Franklin County Emergency Management coordinator, said state fire officials recently issued that warning.
“We have had two years of record breaking fire seasons,” Winter said. “Right now, [fire officials] are forecasting we are going to have a rough wildfire season.”
Western Kansas was hit hard this past spring with one of the worst fires in the nation’s history. Winter said it ranked as the No. 10 largest fire in U.S. history.
“I hate to say this, we are getting into burn season in January,” Winter said. “It is not good.”
The state’s usual burn season runs March through May.
Winter said conditions in Franklin County are ripe for wildfires.
“We have a lot of dry material out here,” Winter said. “We did not get as much rain, as south of us did, to get the vegetation as high. But we have quite a bit of vegetation that is dry and dead. It is ready to go. It just takes a little bit of wind and low relative humidities...we are playing with disaster at that point.”
Emergency management officials put a burn ban in place Thursday and Friday because of the excessive winds. Winter said residents do need to heed those warnings.
“We fight those issues,” he said. “You have [farmers] trying to get fields burned off and get ready for the next season going forward. We know their time is limited to when they actually get things done. We try to keep as many good days open as possible.”
Winter said there are a number of things residents need to do before striking the match. The first is get a burn permit and follow all the guides.
“They need to put a burn plan in place,” Winter said. “They need to do the necessary things to have a good safe burn. Some of our issues are: Do they have a burn permit? Do they call? We will tell you ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on that day. But it is not ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for that time period or where they are at. It behooves the person who is striking that match to make sure the conditions are right.”
Winter said rural fire departments are gearing up for the upcoming burn season. He said this past week was wildfire preparedness week.
“Our rural fire departments have been working hard to upgrade their gear,” Winter said. “They are working hard to make sure on getting their equipment ready to go for the fire season coming up.”
He said procedures are being worked out for all the departments to be ready to help each other in event of a fire.
“The idea is to throw as much at it fast, so you can get it out before it turns into a monster,” Winter said.