By Phyllis Zorn
Marion County Record – March 15, 2017
When the call to save lives and property in Reno County came, 31 county firefighters sprung to action.
Among them were three Marion firefighters. Fire chief Mike Regnier said the Marion firefighters left March 7 with one vehicle and returned March 8.
They were not on the front line of the fire, but worked behind it, making sure burned areas were completely extinguished so there were no rekindled fires, Regnier said.
“It was strictly, if you wanted to go they would make a place for you,” Regnier said. “They worked with guys out of Kansas City and Norwich, and they said they all worked together well. They were all pretty pumped when they got back.”
Lincolnville fire chief Lester Kaiser, who helped organize Marion County’s response to the fire in Reno County, said 31 firefighters from Burns, Florence, Goessel, Lincolnville, Lost Springs, Marion, Peabody, and Tampa answered the call for help, and three of the firefighters worked multiple shifts. Besides showing up to fight the fire, they took several fire trucks with them to assist the effort.
Firefighters were deployed March 5 through 8 to work rotating 12-hour shifts as fires roared toward Hutchinson consuming everything in their path, Kaiser said.
Matthew Voth, assistant chief at Goessel Fire Department, said the firefighters’ primary goal was to keep the fire from crossing K-61 highway into Sand Hills State Park. Goessel firefighters worked during the overnight shift, Voth said.
Voth praised Kaiser’s role in the county’s response.
“Lester Kaiser stepped in and really organized Marion County,” Voth said.
Voth said driving on ash and residue is like driving on flour, and trucks can easily get stuck. Hidden and narrow driveways, as well as untrimmed cedar trees are also challenges, Voth said.
“I would encourage people to trim any cedar trees around their yard. When they catch fire, they just explode, almost,” Voth said.
A few homes were lost in the Hutchinson fire, Voth said.
Kaiser said Thursday he was preparing to send firefighters to Clark County for rangeland fires still burning there, but knew the situation might change and the call for assistance might be canceled.
“Most of these are volunteers; this is a non-compensated deployment, under a mutual aid deployment,” Kaiser said.
Regnier said his firefighters would be paid the standard rate of $15 for going to the Hutchinson fire.
“At Goessel we get our mileage reimbursed,” Voth said.
Hutchinson resident Mike Hagley, whose family had to evacuate because of the approaching fire, said last week he is thankful firefighters were there to help.
“The fire roared toward our house and our home was saved by firefighters who lined 56th and did a back burn and kept the fire from jumping 56th,” Hagley said. “They have been working incredibly long hours and I’m sure they’re exhausted. Firefighting is one of those professions you don’t think about much until you are about to lose all your heirlooms and familiar surroundings. The last couple of days have been scary and inconvenient for us. We feel very fortunate that that is the extent of our problems and feel for those who lost their homes. We are also thankful nobody has been injured.”
According to the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, more than 659,000 acres in the state had burned as of Friday. The hardest-hit region is Clark and Commanche counties, with an estimated 504,000 acres consumed.
“In addition to property destruction, the fires have killed an unknown number of livestock in several counties,” KDEM said.
KDEM said people wanting to contribute to disaster relief efforts can donate cash to reputable disaster relief organizations, including local organizations in the affected communities.