Local firefighters deploy to Nebraska to battle blaze

Beth Kornegay/Special to the Times
Fairmount Township Capt. Richard Christy, firefighter Jeff Boddy, firefighter Jordan DeRuse, Stranger Township Assistant Chief Bert Dunham and  Lt. Dylan Haufler and Kickapoo Township Fire Capt. Brad Myhand helped fight recent fires in Nebraska.

Six local firefighters recently volunteered for deployment in Nebraska to help with a brush fire that needed extra reinforcements from other departments. The Post Fire, which was burning about five miles south of Crawford, Nebraska, drew firefighters from Fairmount Township, Stranger Township and Kickapoo Township. In addition to personnel, those departments also responded with equipment including a brush truck and a 1,700-gallon tender.

Almost as soon as the Crawford Volunteer Fire Department was notified about a fire south of town on Sept. 16, those firefighters found themselves outmatched. They called for reinforcements, but gusts of up to 50 miles per hour sent the flames racing. The next morning, 1,000 acres had already burned and residents in 30 nearby homes were told to prepare to evacuate. Smoldering embers from a lightning strike are believed to be responsible for igniting the Post Fire, which burned more than 5,000 acres.  

The local firefighters left Fairmount Township Fire Department in downtown Basehor at 6 a.m. Sept. 18. Four days later, they returned home after spending much of their time cleaning up after the fire and driving the perimeter of the fire line extinguishing smoldering trees, stumps and roots within the burn area.

To cover the expenses of the local firefighters, Fairmount Township Fire Chief Mike Lingenfelser reported that the department has submitted documentation for reimbursement to the Kansas Forest Service and the state of Nebraska.

“Fairmount Township has received numerous grants for wildland firefighting equipment through the Kansas Forest Service. This was an opportunity to utilize that equipment and training to help them provide needed resources,” Lingenfelser said.

One of the volunteers who deployed to the Post Fire was Capt. Richard Christy. Over his lengthy career, he has traveled out of state to help with natural disasters including in 2007 when an F-4 tornado struck Greensburg, Kansas. Christy looks at that experience as well as the Post Fire as a way to not only help other agencies, but also gain valuable experience that he can bring back to his own department.

Christy arrived in Nebraska around midnight and found no accommodations available, so he and the other volunteers slept in sleeping bags outside of the local fire station. After that, the group felt fortunate to find hotels that were willing to reduce their rates to support the firefighters while they were in the area helping contain the fire. Firefighters from other agencies that went to Nebraska ended up sleeping in tents at a local city park. Members of the community also stepped up to provide assistance with supplies including cotton swabs, eye cleaners, socks, T-shirts, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and toothpaste.  

“There was a large group of local city residents that came to our command center and cooked breakfast for us every morning at 6 a.m., made lunches and dinner for us. Most forestry personnel wanted the firefighters to consume between 5,000 and 10,000 calories per day so we would be able to go out and work a hard 12-hour shift,” Christy said.

The group’s daily routine included a morning briefing by state officials and the forestry department on where volunteers would be stationed to help end the fires. Groups consisting of four to eight personnel would walk the perimeter lines in the fire area to extinguish fires that were still burning or smoldering. While much of the raging fires had been subdued, there remained acres of random bushes, trees and other combustible items that needed to be extinguished to ensure the fires would not reignite as the wind direction changed.

While the Post Fire was burning for six days, no homes were burned. Although the fire was dangerously close to Fort Robinson State Park and the town of Crawford, firefighters from across much of Nebraska arrived and brought their trucks and tanker planes and the Nebraska National Guard provided additional support with its helicopters. Ranchers and their trailers helped to haul away livestock that was in danger.

“I’m proud of our firefighters for volunteering to help another community. They did an outstanding job in some very treacherous conditions,” said Lingenfelser.

In addition to the Fairmount, Strange and Kickapoo Township fire departments, part of the Leavenworth County Wildland Fire Task Force, along with several other counties were deployed to assist with the Post Fire. Consolidated Fire District No. 1 and Douglas County led the Wildland Taskforce with additional responders from Eudora City Fire Department, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical and the Olathe Fire Department.