Drought warning leads to fire danger warnings in some counties

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Scorched earth is all that's left in this pasture after a wiildland fire over the weekend. Scorched earth is all that's left in this pasture after a wiildland fire over the weekend.
Wet weather this spring, mild temperatures over the summer and drying winds this fall have combined to create a lot of dried out scrub brush that can go up in flames in seconds. Wet weather this spring, mild temperatures over the summer and drying winds this fall have combined to create a lot of dried out scrub brush that can go up in flames in seconds.
As wildfires advance across fields like this, firefighters say the leading edge of flames can shoot 60 to 80 feet into the air, making fighting them dangerous. As wildfires advance across fields like this, firefighters say the leading edge of flames can shoot 60 to 80 feet into the air, making fighting them dangerous.
Many rural firefighters, who are the most likely to respond first to widespread grass and wildfires, remain mostly or all volunteer departments, reliant on community support to stay open. Many rural firefighters, who are the most likely to respond first to widespread grass and wildfires, remain mostly or all volunteer departments, reliant on community support to stay open.
WALTON, Kan. (KAKE) -

Fire danger is high in several parts of Kansas right now and could get worse as the U.S. Drought Monitor shows several parts of the state as already being abnormally dry.  Harvey County is one of those abnormally dry areas.

Which is why fire departments like Harvey County Fire District #1 in Walton are asking your help in preventing out-of-control wildland and grass fires. 

The Walton fire chief says this year could be a tough one for them.

"We had a lot of moisture earlier this year, you know, the lakes were all flooded and everything, and not really an exceptionally hot summer, and so a lot of growth and a lot of fuel," Fire Chief Bill Kemph said.  "All that heavy overgrowth and au natural pasture is very explosive fuel."

This last weekend alone Kemph's volunteer department spent more than 20 hours battling a wildland blaze along the Harvey-Marion County line.

"It's abusive work," he said, on both the firefighters, who need to be regularly rotated and checked out medically, and the equipment.  "I would bet probably 70% of the vehicles that came off of that had something wrong  with them by the time we got done."

Repairing their damaged trucks afterward took another eight hours - all volunteer.

"Those funds to keep the organization open are getting tighter and tighter to get," Kemph admitted, saying they work hard to keep costs down.  But, just getting the specialized parts to repair these trucks can be expensive.  

That's where your help comes in.  While donations are always welcomed and encouraged, Kemph says prevention is much more important.

If you live outside the city, he says, one thing you can do is keep the area around your home cleared out

"Keep that cut back and cut down so that if something were to happen, it would have a natural break before it would get to your structure," he explained.

While every county is a little bit different, in Harvey County they want you to call 911 before any open burning because it takes just seconds to turn all of that dried out scrub brush into acres and acres of scorched earth.

His department says they'll even come out and do the open burning for their residents, for a small fee.

"That would really help us because in the long run we'd rather go somewhere for 10 minutes  than 10 hours," Kemph said.

This would save you and departments like Kemph's the time and money required to douse blazes like they saw this last weekend and to pick up the pieces afterward.

Most counties have their open burn policies online or you can call the county courthouse to find out what the rules are where you live.  

Check out these photos from across KAKEland snapped by our viewers, staff and local officials. Do you have pictures to share with us? Email them to news@kake.com.

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