While the abnormally warm, dry weather has been enjoyable for most Lawrence residents, Douglas County fire departments have been gearing up for the extreme fire danger it can bring.
“The rural areas have far more wild land or brush or grass fires,” Wakarusa Township fire chief Mike Baxter said. “Whatever citizens are burning, there’s large areas that are being burned all at once by multiple people.”
Since February 16, Douglas County has been in and out of red flag warnings provided by the National Weather Service. Wildfire risk peaks when the weather is warm, dry and windy.
“It’s a very busy time for volunteer departments, and we are a mixture of volunteer and staff,” Baxter said. “When spring time starts coming around, we start training. We bring in all of our new volunteers, (and) we do wild land training with them. Then we really start going through our brush trucks.”
But while rural areas are most at risk for larger-spread fires, the risk doesn’t stop at the city limits- it just makes for different challenges.
“On a daily basis, we come in and check the weather conditions and the forecast for the day,” Lawrence fire marshall James King said. “We’ll look at the range-land fire danger index, and we’ll make a determination if this is a burn or no-burn day.”
King says even something as small as a smoldering cigarette can spark a large fire.
“Conditions change actually within hours, in either direction,” King said. “It’s just being aware of the daily conditions.”
Both departments and others in Douglas County are working together to provide relief and support throughout the spring wildfire season. Public awareness is paramount to stopping fires before they begin.
“We just will run fires all day long if the community’s not being proactive, so they take the first step in it, really,” Baxter said.
Douglas County fire officials urge anyone wishing to burn or use a fire at any time to check weather conditions frequently, and to check with their respective departments based on location for existing burn bans.