Brush fires keeping local fire departments busy as Kansas sees dry, windy conditions

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OLATHE, Kan. — Fire departments across the metro are on high alert.

That’s certainly true in Kansas, where Gov. Laura Kelly signed a declaration of disaster on Monday. Grass and brush fires have been a frequent problem across the state, keeping firefighters busy for the past two weeks.

Crews such as Olathe Fire’s brush fire crew stand at the ready. The Olathe Fire Department is one of several in the metro that have personnel assigned to respond to the frequent brush and grass fires that are popping up.

High winds and dry conditions are the recipe for grass fires, which can easily whirl out of control and turn into larger problems, especially if they’re located near residential areas.

“If we have any kind of grass or brush fire in that acreage, and it can get into a fence line or it can get into a neighborhood,” Olathe Fire Capt. Kevin Hilboldt said. “It’s difficult to us because we’re used to fighting a structure fire, so that’s any fire that’s contained to a certain building. The wind can change directions, or anything like that, and that can cause us all sorts of different issues.”

FOX4 spotted several fires on Monday afternoon, including one at K-10 and Kill Creek Road near De Soto. That grass fire was located in a median on the busy highway, and it affected traffic for a couple of hours. 

Kelly’s emergency order opens the availability for stronger measures if they’re deemed necessary by state fire officials. That could include National Guard helicopters and firefighting task forces.

Trig Morley, an assistant chief with Johnson County Fire District, said the rain that’s predicted for later this week will only provide temporary relief.

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“The fuel can completely dry out — a little bit of sun and a little bit of wind. Within an hour, the moisture in that fuel can be gone, and those fuels can be available to burn again,” Morley said.

Firefighters also warn the public about illegal burning of brush and trash on private land. Windy conditions can blow embers from backyard fires for miles, spreading the threat of sparking big trouble.

Hilboldt said even a carelessly discarded cigarette can also spark a fire in these dry conditions. A spark thrown from heavy equipment can as well.

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