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May 26th, 2020

beaver 412 fireThis home in the Oklahoma Panhandle was a victim of the 412 Fire earlier this month. Many precautions must be taken in order to prevent similar incidents. Courtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


The 412 Fire roared through the Oklahoma Panhandle earlier this month and with warmer weather starting up, it is important for people to make sure they take steps of fire prevention. 

“In this part of the country, we go through this every spring and every fall, we wait in spring for everything to green up and then in the fall is when everything starts to go dormant,” Liberal Fire Chief Kelly Kirk said. “And for those who depend on the growing seasons, that can make for a lot of fuel. Here in town though, it doesn't affect us as much as it does the Seward County Fire Department and surrounding fire departments. Most of the concern with the wildland fires that happened is the spaces around town and in the more rural areas, there's much more grasses and other crop residue and things like that. Even so, we encourage people to, until it gets deeper into spring and we see those spring rains and things start to green up, be extra cautious since things are so tinder-dry right now that something as simple as a spark or discarded cigarette could ignite something bigger.”

Eric Ward, the assistant fire management officer for the Kansas Forest Service, said in a release with the K-State Research and Extension release, that multiple reports from fire departments and people conducting prescribed burns this winter and spring have indicated that fire behavior has been much more challenging and difficult to control than the weather conditions would have indicated.

“Fire departments should be vigilant and prepared to dispatch more resources than they typically would in the event of a wildfire,” Ward said in the release. “Landowners conducting prescribed burns are urged to carefully check the fire weather forecast, available on each National Weather Service website, prior to attempting any burn.” 

Kirk added the warmer weather will make people want to be outside more, so there should be extra caution taken. 

“With the weather getting warmer, people are going to want to be outside more, and for a lot of people that includes grilling and barbecuing. With that, use only approved charcoal lighters, be careful if you're using a propane grill and make sure that remains clean and maintained so there aren't any accidents in that way. And if you are planning to grill, make sure your grill is properly serviced and ready to go,” Kirk said. “A lot of people also like to burn some of the residue off their lawns and get rid of the dead stuff, but you really have to be careful and monitor the weather for the time you plan on doing that because the weather around here changes just like that. And if someone does need to do a controlled burn, by state law we have to be notified about that happening, and there is a form that need to be filled out so we know what's going on and we don't have to respond with the full department if someone sees the smoke for what you're working on. There are other rules with controlled burns including the wind must be less than 15 mph and we can't let controlled burns happen on more overcast days when the smoke would be basically pushed to the ground, and it also must be constantly supervised and out before sundown. And if you're outside doing anything that could cause a spark or something like that, take a few extra steps and make sure you're careful so that doesn't happen, because it could easily turn into a major problem. It is okay to burn off vegetation if you need to, we know that needs to happen. But keep in mind you can't burn anything that creates black smoke or otherwise toxic fumes, that's just not good for anyone involved, but tree limbs and things like that are fine as long as you do it a little at a time. Be sure to keep a water source handy and nearby in case something goes awry, and it's not a bad idea to wet the edges of your burning area as an extra barrier. And just like other fires, keep a watchful eye on everything and make sure it doesn't get out of control.”

Overall, Kirk said, it is important for everyone to be safety-conscious  around fire. 

“We always encourage people to be careful and be safety-conscious. It's very easy to get complacent and think 'Oh, that'll never happen to ME!' but it can, and it happens to someone every day. We want everyone to be safety-minded and as spring comes in and as things green up, we want people to be extra vigilant because at this point in time everything is still really dry and can spread really quickly and in any direction, which can cause damage to homes and crops and everything in its way,” Kirk said. “Something extra for those who live in the rural areas to keep in mind is make sure there's some sort of fire break on your property and make sure everything is properly mowed and cleared up so there's no extra tinder for any fire. It's really the same preparedness every property owner should take into account. We always tell people to do what they can as far as prevention because once the fire starts, the damage is already done.”

Especially with the 412 Fire, Kirk said there is a great partnership between the Liberal Fire Department and other area departments. 

“With what happened, we plan for that sort of thing all the time and we're always ready to deal with something like that, and it's something Chief Barkley and I have talked a lot about,” Kirk said. “With the situation that happened in Beaver, the real miracle is we all rely on each other for assistance. If Seward County ever had a fire like Beaver County had, our first mutual aid would be from Beaver and Turpin and Tyrone, and we would hope our efforts would be enough to contain it without having to call in aid from Garden City or somewhere else far away because if that were to happen, that's really bad. If the Liberal Fire Department is already on a call, I know the Seward County Fire Department would be at a heightened state of readiness and then if we had a second fire or if there was an emergency medical call or auto accident, they'd be ready to assist with those if need be. And if a situation got really bad like with what happened in Beaver, we would also call in air support, there are crop duster pilots who could help and we also had Black Hawk helicopters fly in to help control that situation. It's truly a great partnership between us and the other area fire departments, we're all links in one chain and we all depend on each other, which is something you don't see everywhere, so we're very fortunate to have such great professional relationships with each other.”

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