Why firefighters are setting fires in Reno County

RENO COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — People in Reno County may have seen or smelled smoke Friday. The Hutchinson Fire Department had some firefighters start fires as part of its mitigation efforts ahead of wildfire season.

They were burning a ditch on Buhler/Haven Road on Friday afternoon.

  • A Hutchinson firefighter burns a ditch as part of wildfire mitigation efforts on Feb. 2, 2024. (KSN News Photo)
    A Hutchinson firefighter burns a ditch as part of wildfire mitigation efforts on Feb. 2, 2024. (KSN News Photo)
  • Hutchinson firefighters burn a ditch as part of wildfire mitigation efforts on Feb. 2, 2024. (KSN News Photo)
    Hutchinson firefighters burn a ditch as part of wildfire mitigation efforts on Feb. 2, 2024. (KSN News Photo)
  • Hutchinson firefighters burn a ditch as part of wildfire mitigation efforts on Feb. 2, 2024. (KSN News Photo)
    Hutchinson firefighters burn a ditch as part of wildfire mitigation efforts on Feb. 2, 2024. (KSN News Photo)
  • Hutchinson firefighters burn a ditch as part of wildfire mitigation efforts on Feb. 2, 2024. (KSN News Photo)
    Hutchinson firefighters burn a ditch as part of wildfire mitigation efforts on Feb. 2, 2024. (KSN News Photo)

“Every year we go around our territory and pick out four to five places we feel are concerns,” Jeremy Unruh, HFD division chief of operations, said. “We’re looking for the fuel type in the fields, how thick it is, and we compare that against recent incidents we’ve had.”

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He said burning a ditch gives some protection since many fires start along roadways, possibly from discarded cigarettes or chains dragged along the pavement, creating sparks.

The goal is that the controlled fires now will help prevent grass fires from starting in the coming months. The fires also help train crews.

According to the Kansas Forest Service, recent moisture helps in the short term but also creates more fuel for fires and causes problems for crews.

“When we do have fires that start, and our fire departments try to get out into the fields to put them out, with the ground being so wet, the chances of getting fire trucks stuck and those kinds of things go up a lot,” said Rodney Redinger, Kansas Forest Service asst. fire management officer of operations and training.

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Another thing that can cause grass fires is when four-wheelers get stuck in tall grass. If that happens, Redinger says to shut the vehicle off to prevent hot exhaust from starting a fire.

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