After the Anderson Creek fire torched swaths of northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas last March, a proposal in the Kansas House would let Kansas work with neighboring states on fighting fires.
Under HB 2140, Kansas would join the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact starting in July. The compact would allow Kansas to get additional firefighting manpower from six member states: Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and New Mexico. Kansas could also provide help to those states on fires and other disasters.
States that request help may have to reimburse other states for costs they incur as they help fight fires.
Rodney Redinger, a Kansas Forest Service fire training specialist, was an incident commander of the Anderson Creek fire last year.
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The fire burned an estimated 390,000 acres in late March.
“For us to request other resources from, say, Oklahoma, it would have had a couple-hour process to get those resources,” Redinger said in a House Federal and State Affairs Committee meeting Thursday. “It just seemed really inefficient.”
Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, questioned whether joining the Great Plains compact would have made a difference in the fire on the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Redinger said joining any regional compact would open the state to getting help from states in compacts.
Redinger said essentially every county in the state helped fight the Anderson Creek fire.
“We did not have an opportunity to bring in outside resources,” he said.
Interstate cooperation on fires became a big priority for Kansas firefighters in the months after the Anderson Creek fire, said Riley County Assistant Fire Chief Doug Schmitt.
The compact “would have helped the impact of the fire down there,” Schmitt said. “It makes perfect sense to us.”
Kansas State Forester Larry Biles said rural, volunteer fire districts are the backbone of the state’s firefighting efforts.
“They are doing to this as a sidebar to their day jobs,” Biles said. “This compact will add a great deal of value to our operation.”