NEWTON — Typically, the winter months mark an increased threat of wildfire danger to local fire departments, and that is no different for Newton Fire/EMS.
Newton Fire/EMS Chief Steve Roberson and Harvey County Emergency Management Director Gary Denny attributed that threat to two main factors — availability of fuel sources and access.
"The percent of green — we're talking about vegetation, and that is the fuel that we have here in Harvey County — is minimal. Things are dry; there's no greening factor whatsoever. That's just ripe fuel waiting for those low humidity, high temperature, high wind days," Denny said. "And the ignition of a fuel source isn't the issue, but it's how quickly it spreads."
"The other part is they're just hard to mitigate at this time of year, too," Roberson said, "because the ground is frozen one day but then it's thawed the next; the top is slimy and you can't hardly get anywhere, you can't get out in the field to put them out."
Given the increased threat at this time, Gov. Laura Kelly proclaimed Feb. 3-7 as Wildfire Awareness Week in partnership with the Kansas Interagency Wildfire Council and multiple state agencies.
“Each year, wildfires endanger our firefighters, neighbors and landscapes,” said Mick McGuire, the current chairman of the Kansas Interagency Wildfire Council and lead meteorologist of the National Weather Service in Wichita. “Wildfire Awareness Week reminds us that we all have a part to play in preventing wildfires and protecting our communities.”
Preliminary data from the Office of the State Fire Marshall indicates that reported vegetation fires were down to 2,502 fires burning 27,907 acres in 2019 as compared to 6,316 fires that burned 185,610 acres in 2018.
While reported wildfires were lower in 2019 due to above normal precipitation amounts, cooperating agencies within KIWC caution Kansans to not become complacent when it comes to doing their part to reduce the risk of and prepare for wildfires. With a heavy growth pattern due to the rainfall last spring, a greater threat of wildfires is expected this year because of more vegetation (i.e. fuel source).
Additionally, nearly 95 percent of all wildfires result from the activity of people, indicating there is still room for improvement in mitigating the threat.
McGuire said that every Kansan can implement the tips and best practices highlighted during Wildfire Awareness Week to prevent dangerous wildfires.
“I urge everyone to take simple, precautionary steps like pruning trees and shrubs around homes and removing old debris from yards. Kansas experiences its heaviest wildfire activity during the early spring months, but fires occur during all seasons of the year, including winter,” he said.