by Pilar Pedraza
KWCH 12 Eyewitness News
11:20 AM CST, January 28, 2013
The lack of rain has firefighters in Hutchinson quite worried. They say the fire season has begun and they're concerned a major wildfire could threaten homes and lives.
"We're just entering in our season, right now," said Deputy Fire Chief Michael L. Miller.
Seven years ago it took every firefighter in Reno County, and then some, to put out a large brush fire in the Sand Hills. Residents lost dozens of homes.
"I do believe it's going to happen again," said Miller. After two years of drought, the Hutchinson Fire Department worries about an even worse fire this year. "It's going to be a challenge."
And with more people moving into the Sand Hills area the problem is how to keep them safe.
"It doesn't take long for a wildland fire to outpace our resources," said the deputy chief.
The untouched nature of the area is a big reason why so many people are moving into the Sand Hills. And they say they're not sure they want to be any farther away from the natural landscaping than they already are.
"Oh, we're a hundred feet, probably," said homeowner Mitch Williams, "at the closest area. And that's really some of the beauty of the property. And, of course, you don't really think about that, the dangers of that, as you're buying the property."
Homeowners like Williams are aware of the drought and the dangers it poses. He's not thrilled hearing the fire department wants him to mow down the natural grasses for 300 feet around his home to create a fire barrier.
"I would consider it," Williams said. "If that was one of the rules that they came up with, of course we'd do that. But, it wouldn't be something that I'd want to do."
At the same time, Williams doesn't want to see a repeat of the fires seven years ago. He wants to know more about what the fire department is doing to prevent it.
Monday was a red flag day at the Hutchinson Fire Department. That flag is a warning that conditions are right for a wildfire.
"So that people are alerted to the dangers," said Miller. "They'll have a plan to maybe evacuate, family, pets, valuables, ahead of time."
It's why they're flying a red pennant, just below the American flag, at every fire station. When it's flying there's no burning allowed in Hutchinson.
It goes up on days with temperatures over 70 degrees, low humidity and high winds.
"Those three things right there create a fire index that's very high or extreme," said Miller.
And when the danger is high, even if only for a couple hours, the flag goes up for the entire day.
The Hutchinson Fire Department is working on other fire prevention ideas as well. They include the possibility of a total burn ban sometime in the next couple of months.
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