After action report completed for last year’s wildfires near Hutchinson, Kansas

wildfires hutchinson kansas 2017

Above: Wildfires detected by a satellite March 7, 2017 in the Hutchinson, KS and Enid, OK area. NASA.

Reno County in Kansas has completed an after action report (AAR) regarding the wildfires that occurred in March, 2017. One of the largest blazes was north of Hutchinson, which is about 40 air miles northwest of Wichita. While those fires were active, hundreds of thousands of acres were also burning around the Texas/Oklahoma panhandle/Kansas border area.

Before we get into the AAR, one thing to keep in mind about Kansas, which we covered April 2, 2017, is that according to the Wichita Eagle:

The state’s forest service is the smallest and lowest funded of any in the country – which puts people and property in danger. Consider the difference in resources and responses between Kansas and Oklahoma:
–The Kansas Forest Service budget in 2016 was about $3 million, with $1 million dedicated to fire service; Oklahoma’s budget was $15 million, with $8 million for fire service.
–The Kansas Forest Service has three trucks and four employees dedicated to firefighting and fire prevention; Oklahoma has 47 fire engines, 47 bulldozers and 84 firefighters.

The AAR was compiled by Deputy Fire Chief Doug Hanen, with the assistance of Emergency Management Director Adam Weishaar and Sheriff Randy Henderson. The 30-page report concluded that generally the work performed on the fires by numerous agencies was positive and commendable, but there was room for improvement.

Here are some of the highlights of the review:

  • There is a need for smaller fire apparatus that can get into areas not accessible by 6-by-6 military surplus engines.
  • A Polaris side-by-side UTV  holding 75 gallons was very useful for mop up, especially in wet areas. They hope to obtain at least one more.
  • On days with a Red Flag Warning, they will now immediately dispatch at least three brush engines.
  • In order to help manage the span of control, the Hutchinson Fire Department will organize resources into Task Forces comprised of three brush engines, one water tender, and a Task Force Leader.
  • The firefighters in Reno County for the last two years have increasingly used backfire and burnout tactics, and more engines are carrying drip torches.
  • The Hutchinson Fire Department became the first fully-paid department in Kansas to have all of their firefighters red carded. This will enable them to send resources out of the state, for example, to Colorado or California.
  • The Kansas State Incident Management Team provided assistance for a day, but they “seemed overwhelmed by a moving event,” were “inexperienced…in essential positions”, and lacked accountability. At the end of the day the Team left. The state has since reorganized the program, placing teams under the Kansas Department of Emergency Management enabling them to respond nationwide instead of just in Kansas.
  • Toward the end of the fire siege a Type 2 Incident Management Team was called in. The difference between that team and the previous State Team was “night and day”. Local officials learned a lot from the Type 2 Team, especially how to re-populate areas following an evacuation and in dealing with victims following an incident.
  • There are opportunities for better and more timely communication and coordination with the public and the media.
  • The report suggests better guidelines for managing length of first responders’ shifts on wildfires and their rehabilitation in order to reduce exhaustion.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

8 thoughts on “After action report completed for last year’s wildfires near Hutchinson, Kansas”

  1. Conditions in the state are worse this year than the last 2 years. We had a lot of rain in April and May last year so we have thick and tall native warm season grasses. We are super dry. Haskell County hasn’t seen measurable rainfall in 150 days. Elkhart hasn’t been this dry since 1936. Winds come in March and it’s scary thinking about what is lying in wait out there.

    1. According to Matt it seems pretty likely that Kansas will be getting a repeat of last spring. Sadly, the people of Kansas will reap what they’ve sown. They have voted in Brownback and and his ilk to cut taxes to the bone, resulting in underfunded schools and forest service, and an inept State IMT.

      According to http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article164572267.html the people of Kansas have voted in a Govenor and a Legislator that have budgeted 1/15th the amount budgeted by Oklahoma for wildfire suppression. But the good news is that the Legislature is going to do an audit. Take heart Kansas farmers and ranchers, the Legislature’s lawyers and accountants are on the job!

  2. I don’t know that you can blame the ineptitude of the IMT on budget. We simply haven’t had fires like this before. They are used to showing up to a static situation like post tornado. They hadn’t been utilized and were unprepared for a dynamic situation like a wildfire. Previously even on large wildfires we would battle it for a day, then when the sun goes down the fire essentially puts itself out. Before a large IMT could even arrive the situation would be handled. We also didn’t have the proliferation of cedars (aka the green glacier) that currently exists out there. Anderson Creek opened the eyes, then we got last year. 2016 was the first year we ever called for out of area resources after we simply overwhelmed local resources. They sent a task force from Riley county to assist and when they arrived it was all over pretty much.

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