Firefighters on scene for third day Wednesday.
Pratt County could be facing a burn ban following a stubborn three-day fire that refused to die and another fire on the east side of the county on Wednesday.
Mark McManaman, administrator of Emergency and Medical Services for Pratt, said he would present the current fire situation to the Pratt County Commissioners for a fire burn consideration.
“It’s awfully dry,” McManaman said.
In the meantime, firefighters were back on the scene Wednesday of a grass and tree fire at SW 40th Street and SW 40th Avenue that started Monday evening. The fire flared up twice again Tuesday with the second session taking units from several fire districts several hours to get under control.
Units from Township 12, Pratt, Cullison, Coats, Sawyer, Haviland plus an additional tanker on standby from Preston, Pratt County Emergency, Pratt County EMS and the Cannonball Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross all responded to the fire Tuesday afternoon, McManaman said.
The original fire started around 5 p.m. Monday evening at the Kent Smith property when Smith burned a bunch of dead cedar trees in a bare spot in a pasture. He had pushed about 100 little cedar trees into a pile and let them sit for a week then burned them Monday.
Smith said when he finally left the trees, he couldn’t see how the fire could possibly spread but the wind changed and the fire got lose and headed east into a grove of trees and north into some pasture grass.
Firefighters from Township 12 and Cullison were called to the property about four miles south of U.S. 54 on the Coats blacktop although the fire started closer to 40th Street and 40th Avenue.
Years of potential fuel and dry grass along with wind made it difficult to fight the fire.
The trees and brush were so thick it wasn’t possible to drive though it and firefighters had to drag hose to get to the fire, McManaman said.
“I don’t know how many trees were on fire but it was a bunch,” McManaman said.
Firefighters were on scene Monday for over five hours before the fire was under control and they thought they could leave it alone.
But this fire was far from over.
About 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, a farmer in the area reported the fire had flared up and grass was on fire burning towards a residence. Cullison and Township 12 responded to the fire again and found the fire going up through the pasture, burning trees and grass and through a gully. Firefighters were on the scene until around 2:30 p.m. but the fire didn’t stay down long.
A stiff breeze came up and at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the fire had started again but this time it was moving fast through unburned trees and CRP grass and heading for the David Schimdt residence to the east.
When McManaman arrived this time, he knew things were much more serious.
“It (fire) was roaring. I just knew we were going to lose that house,” McManaman said.
Without hesitation, McManaman requested backup from other departments. About 20 vehicles fought the blaze with at least twice that many firefighters.
Firefighters had to struggle against the high wind that pushed the fire through more trees with evergreen after evergreen suddenly bursting into flame and shooting flames sometimes 50 to 60 feet in the air. The fire was very close to overhead power lines and firefighters were concerned that it might cause a line to come down.
A 24-inch gas line was also exposed where it went through the gully and that was a concern as well.
With so many factors working against them, there was concern that the fire might jump a road and continue north all the way to U.S. 54 about four miles away.
These fire bursts sent out lots of potential fire starters and firemen could just put out the tree as best they could then get back to fighting the ground fire.
They let the fire burn under trees to help eliminate the fuel supply. But the wind was pushing the fire so fast it jumped 40th Avenue and eventually reached the Schmidt residence where it burned fences and damaged a barn.
The barn was rundown but the firefighters had to save it toprevent it from setting the house on fire.
Fences and a draw hindered firefighter movement. On Monday, they avoided cutting fences but the Tuesday afternoon fire moved so fast, firefighters had to cut fences just to keep up.
The draw was so rough, trucks just got stuck so they had to drive around part of the section to get to the other side. Firefighters would get the fire under control on one side of the draw or fence then it would start on the other side.
When the fire got close to the Schmidt house, the plan was to protect the structures.
The heat and stress of all the work took a toll on the firefighters. Pratt County EMS was called in to provide a cool place for firefighters to take a breather and get their blood pressure and pulse checked.
The American Red Cross came and provided food and water. Neighbors Dustin Eubank and Merle Rose both brought additional water tanks to refill the fire trucks.
Firefighters were on scene from about 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday night and returned around 1 p.m. Wednesday to tackle some smoky spots.
Although the county has no fire ban in place at this time, McManaman said he discouraged any type of burning as long as it’s this dry. But if burning takes place to have at least a garden hose hooked up and ready to go along with a fire extinguisher.
When burning is finished, make sure the burn area is completely out with no smoke smoldering. Also be careful about parking vehicles where they can catch the grass on fire from a catalytic converter.