After the fire: the aftermath of a prairie blaze in Franklin County


One weekend ago, Jim and I were following the historic driving tour of northeastern Franklin County. The golden fields were beautiful, but the land was dry, so dry. The creek beds were filled with dying weeds; the ponds were waterless cracked craters.

Kansas is in a drought. When Kansas is in a drought, all of that beautiful golden grass amounts to acres and acres of kindling.

The eastern edge of the fire, where a wooded area still smolders a day later.

She just had to shoot off her fireworks.

According to the Ottawa Herald, the fireworks stand owners wouldn’t allow her to shoot off her fireworks in their parking lot. So she drove up the road and lit her loot.

A fallen tree still smolders a day later near Osborne Terrace, just east of I-35.

Kansans have a love/hate relationship with prairie fires. Controlled, they’re a valuable tool in renewing fields, burning out brush and returning minerals to the soil. Uncontrolled, they can mean economic, ecological, and physical disaster. Photographer Larry Schwarm has captured their mesmerizing magnificence. But the can also be very dangerous, moving too fast for people or animals to outrun.

Likely scared out of its burrow, this bunny didn’t make it to safety. Seeing this bunny broke my heart.

Sometimes prairie fires are started completely by accident. A lightning strike. An errant ash caught in the wind. An overheated car pulled to the side of the road.

Her fireworks set off a blaze.

Nearly 40 acres were scorched. A hay field and thousands of dollars worth of hay bales were incinerated. A field recently planted with soybeans was destroyed. Little animals, like rabbits, were asphyxiated trying to escape. And 15 firefighters suffered injuries while battling the fire on a 101-degree day.

One of many hay bales destroyed in the July 3 blaze near Nebraska Road.

The blaze damaged utility poles along Osborne Terrace.

An elderly couple driving a white sedan pulled up with our truck as we studied the still smoldering fields.

The woman sat behind the wheel, shaking her head at the remnants of the field as the little old man next to her stared, open-mouthed, at the destruction. She told us that she lived on the other side of the highway. “I’ve never seen anything like this here,” she said. “I hope the person who is responsible for this pays.”

It could just as easily been her land. Her fields.

The fire was contained. Compared to other fires burning in Colorado and Western Kansas, it was small. But to the owners of those fields, to the animals who couldn’t escape, it was still a total loss.

Nearly 40 acres were destroyed by a rapidly moving fire near Nebraska Road and Highway 68 in Franklin County.

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8 thoughts on “After the fire: the aftermath of a prairie blaze in Franklin County

  1. Tami

    Our son spent 18 hours helping fight the grass fires in Ellis County. Don’t know what started that one, but this was so senseless. Putting people’s lives and livelihoods in danger for the momentary kick of lighting a firecracker – especially after being warned. I think we’re fortunate that we made it through the 4th without more of these fires. Thanks for the pictures and update.

    Reply
    1. Diana Staresinic-Deane Post author

      It’s a frustrating situation. According to the Ottawa Herald, the person who started the blaze will not be charged because there was no “criminal intent” (http://www.ottawaherald.com/story/070512fire ) despite the police having warned the public that shooters would be held accountable if their fireworks caused damage. Maybe this woman did not have the capacity to understand the risks before she set fire to the fields. We don’t have enough information. But it’s really frustrating that there was loss and danger to those who ended up cleaning up the mess.

      Reply
  2. Jennifer Worrell

    We have wildfires on a smaller scale here, where people set marshes on fire to harvest asparagus plants. Sounds weird, but it’s been going on for years. Now kids just do it for meanness. Your pictures make me so sad. As the wife of a man in emergency management, I feel for the families of those fire fighters. Hope this craziness stops!

    Reply
  3. Veronica

    It felt a little strange to “like” this post because while I appreciate the photos and the information, there’s nothing to like about the devastation. Sadly, some lessons are learned the hardest way and I bet that woman will thing twice before setting off fireworks near a parched forested area again. So sad.

    Reply
    1. Diana Staresinic-Deane Post author

      I understand how you feel. I went back and forth on whether or not to show the bunny, but I decided that the bunny’s story needed to be told. I think there are a lot of people who just don’t appreciate how little it takes to start a massive fire.

      Reply

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