Precautions needed to prevent wildfires
By John Forshee
River Valley Extension District Director
Throughout the hot and dry summer we heard a lot on the news about wildfires. As we head into late fall and winter, we need to continue to exercise caution and take precautions to prevent wildfires.
Often the lower temperatures of fall and winter lull us into thinking that fires are less likely to happen. To some extent that is true as heat is one leg of the fire triangle and the higher the temperature the easier it is for fire to start. However, during this time of year we must consider the second leg of the fire triangle and that is fuel. As we move into fall and winter we see huge volumes of fuel in our rural areas. Pasture grasses have gone to seed and are maturing, creating dry fuel. Crops such as grain sorghum, corn and soybeans are mature and the forage portion, and even grain, makes for a prime fuel for wildfire. Road ditches are full of mature grasses and weeds.
In Kansas, 90 percent of all wildfires are caused by action of humans and so this week I wanted to offer a few tips for preventing fires in rural areas.
The first tip is to know your state and local fire restrictions and to be informed and prepared. Keeping fire extinguishers in your house, garage, shop and all farm vehicles and equipment can provide that means to quickly extinguish a fire before it gets out of control.
Do not burn trash or debris. If you do burn trash, however, burn in a metal barrel with screen covered vents around the base and covered with a metal screen with openings no larger than 5/8 inch. Set the barrel on a bare or rocked surface with 10 feet of clearance on all sides and remember to have that water hose or extinguisher handy. Never leave a burn barrel unattended.
We see many pasture trees being cleared and piled , fence rows being pushed out for new fence or that old farmstead being pushed up. Burning is often the best and only method of cleaning these piles up. Landowners will often wait for a deep and wet snow to cover any surrounding fuel before lighting these piles to burn. That is probably a good practice but I suggest that landowners contact their local fire department for information on local regulations and timing of burning debris. Most of our rural fire departments are staffed with on-call, volunteer firefighters and so it is good for them to have a heads up when any fires might be burning in their fire district.
Vehicles are often a cause of wildfires. To help prevent vehicles from setting fires it is important to have engines properly tuned and operating as efficiently as possible. Catalytic converters that are plugged may become very hot and may set fires when parked over dry grass. Again, maintain your engine and replace the converter to reduce the risk. If you must drive a vehicle into a pasture or stubble field always pay attention behind you, watching for fires and park in a clear area where grass or stubble will not contact the exhaust system.
Finally, farmers must be diligent to protect their crops. Maintain engines at peak performance and always park equipment on bare ground. Blow out debris from the engine compartment and around any moving parts. Keep equipment greased and maintained to prevent bearing failures, a major cause of equipment fires. Take frequent breaks to cool equipment and inspect equipment for any potential problems. These tips will help prevent a fire, but in case one does start, always have that extinguisher handy in the tractor, pickup, grain truck and combine as well as on any piece of equipment such as that baler that may have belts or bearings.
Let's all work together to help prevent rural fires and help protect the property and lives of those around us. Let's also not forget to say thanks to all those volunteer firefighters out there that are willing to get up in the middle of the night and leave their families or walk out of their job in the middle of the day to risk their lives fighting our rural fires.