George Orwell


I just cannot help it, I look at things through a firefighters eyes. After the Anderson Creek Fire and then the Starbuck Fire I was driving down to Canton Oklahoma and made the comment that it looked like a big can of gasoline. Two weeks later that area erupted into the 412 Fire. I cut my teeth on a 1956 Ford American fire truck and a Forestry surplus Jeep fighting grass and field fires. We were fighting Urban Interface fires before the term was invented. Through my fire safety and arson training it was obvious that the same things happen over and over with the same results. We have known forever the things we need to do to avoid disasters. In the 1970’s the scientists formally stated that the huge fires in California had always happened. They identified what influences fire travel and why some places burn and others don’t. They identified the largest influences of fire travel. Has anything changed since the 1970’s? NO!

But let’s not be smug in 2021. Everyone is still fighting the same fires under the same conditions. Nothing has changed other than the more organized way that all fire services and the state agencies work together. So why has nothing changed? People. It reminds me of when the dog races were being held. I asked an experienced fan how he bet on dogs. I could understand a little more about horses. He told me he used the woman method on dogs. I had to ask what the ‘woman’ method was? He said before you bet he looked at the line up and said “that’s a pretty dog. that’s a pretty dog, and that’s a pretty dog. It works as well as any other method.”

So why are the fires still going on? People go out in places like the Sand Hills east and north of Hutchinson they build on a ‘pretty’ piece of land and love all the ‘pretty’ cedar trees. Then when it is dry the ‘pretty’ cedar trees go up like cans of gasoline. It was not that long ago that a Buhler Fire unit got caught in an open air flash over and lost one firefighter. It is still an ‘all hands’ alert when that country burns. So why don’t people get rid of the cedars and manage their grass? Human nature. ‘It never happens to me’ attitude never seems to change. I am sure that the Hutchinson Fire Department had their eyes opened when they combined Reno County Fire District #One. It is a different world from standard residential and commercial firefighting.

We Americans love our independence and it is difficult to get everyone to be responsible. The only thing that really gets anybody’s attention is when their insurance goes up. I have driven up the Haven-Buhler Road all my life. I have been in the hills north of Hutchinson. I have driven the grasslands of the Chautauqua Hills, Flint Hills, and Smokey Hills. I have been through the rolling hills north of Hays. Each presents different fire conditions and problems.

The most glaring thing that can be controlled is the invasion of the Cedar tree (also known as the Mountain Juniper). At the very least you can support the fire departments that come out time after time to keep your house and buildings from burning down. Most of which take time away from their jobs, families, and pay checks just so you can say, “My what pretty trees!”

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