Producers asked to report controlled burns

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Thick black smoke on the horizon signals another parcel of agricultural land is being intentionally burned off by Marion County producers.

But farmers and ranchers who start the burn without notifying local fire districts are costing taxpayers extra money and potentially risking the lives of fellow citizens if the fire department makes an unnecessary run.

That’s why fire chiefs in Marion County are asking producers to inform authorities of their intentions by calling 620-382-2144.

“Anytime farmers or ranchers are planning a controlled burn, they should contact our our (county) communications office,” said Lester Kaiser, president of the Marion County Fire Chiefs Association.

“Whenever you run an emergency response, there’s always the chance of an accident.”

Controlled burns are a land-management tool for producers. Most controlled burns in Marion County involve wheat stubble, croplands or pasture.

“Producers should notify dispatch anytime they do a controlled burn,” said Kaiser, who is chief for Marion County Fire District No. 5. “This has nothing to do with burn bans or anything like that.”

Presently, producers aren’t subject to fines if they don’t notify officials, but Kaiser said it just makes good sense to place that call.

“There is a county resolution on this and copies of it may be obtained from the county,” Kaiser said. “If people have any questions, they should call their local fire department for guidelines on controlled burning.

“Right now, there’s nothing in place as far as a fine for not notifying dispatch about a controlled burn,” he added. “But each individual department is different- and some are thinking about having producers who don’t notify pay for that run.”

Kaiser said the fire departments are performing a service and the producer’s tax money is paying for those services. But notifying officials of a planned burn is one way to avoid wasting resources.

“If we make a run on a controlled burn, their costs and taxes will be increased,” Kaiser said. “There needs to be something done to slow down these calls.”

Kaiser said local fire districts can inform a producer when a controlled burn is a bad risk.

“The dispatch uses the Rangeland Wildfire Index, which tells whether it’s advisable to burn based on the amount of rain we’ve had in the area,” he said.

With today’s advanced technology and the increased use of cellular telephones, the public is reporting more and more fires.

“If we get calls about smoke or fire visible, and we haven’t had anyone notify us of a controlled burn, we head out,” Kaiser said. “That automatically gets you thinking a couple of different ways-what do we have, and what are we going into.

“If that fire has been reported as a controlled burn, we cross check that and we know it was a planned fire.”

Kaiser said the worst-case scenario would be that the department is on a run for an unreported controlled burn when a genuine emergency erupts somewhere else.

“We have good mutual aid agreements with the other departments in the county, so we do cover for each other,” he said. “But a time factor is still involved because the closest district was busy.”

Another factor is the loss of time at a volunteer’s place of employment.

“We have 11 departments and about 190 firefighters in Marion County,” Kaiser said. “When these firefighters go out on a run, you have lost time for the employers-and some don’t even allow time off, so it actually costs the volunteers money to go on runs.

“You also have the chance of someone getting hurt on each run, too. So it would just be so much better and easier if people would call in their controlled burns.”

Another cost is out-of-pocket expenses.

“Some departments pay stipends for the volunteers,” Kaiser said. “Then you have the cost of fuel, vehicle maintenance, and the wear and tear on the vehicles.”

Although unreported controlled burns is still a problem, Kaiser said producers are getting better at making the call.

“Some areas are better than others,” he said.

With abundant rainfall this summer, Kaiser said a short dry spell could mean an active period for area fire districts.

“We’ve had a lot of good growth and if it turns dry, we’re going to have heavy fuel loads all over,” he cautioned. “I have a feeling we’ll be running our tails off.

“We sure won’t need to be going on any more runs if they’re not necessary.”

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