Use of fireworks riskier amid piles of storm debris, county warns residents

Sedgwick County officials are warning residents to take caution when launching fireworks this week, as many piles of storm debris are still sitting alongside neighborhood streets. The wood and dried leaves are a fire hazard, according to a county news release.

As Independence Day approaches, people will shoot more fireworks, further elevating the fire risk, according to the county.

But for some Wichita residents, getting rid of the waste wood is not as easy as it seems.

Wichita city officials have said crews would not pick up storm debris from private property, forcing homeowners to look to landfills and tree removal services to dispose of the wood.

But on Monday, some residents in west Wichita reported seeing city crews removing debris around Callahan and Cheryl streets, near Maple and Tyler. While residents said they were unsure when the debris would be removed, they said city crews came by around 10 a.m. Monday and told them they would be removing the debris.

“Until this morning, they weren’t going to pick it up,” one resident said Monday evening. “If they didn’t after a while, I was going to have to haul it off.”

Wichita City Council member Jeff Blubaugh, who represents Wichita’s District 4, said Monday he was unaware of any changes to the policy. He said it is likely these piles were on a public easement.

“I’ve had a lot of frustrated constituents over this issue,” Blubaugh said. “A lot of people were unhappy.”

City officials are expected to talk more about the issue at a media briefing Tuesday morning.

Some residents still have out-of-reach broken limbs hanging from trees on their properties, forcing them to call already-overwhelmed tree removal services. Workers at Huff’s Tree Services have been working 15-hour days since Thursday, and owner Michael Huffman said he sees no end in sight.

“Everybody wants it done today or tomorrow, but they figure out we can’t do that,” Huffman said. “We had trouble downloading all the voicemails. Calls keep coming in every five minutes.”

His company does not pick up brush piles, he said, because they get too tangled and take up too much room on a trailer.

His advice for homeowners preparing debris for removal: Spread the limbs out on the lawn instead of maintaining a brush pile by the street.

“I know people don’t like to do that because of the visual effect, but it’s better than having a 6-foot-tall pile out by the street,” Huffman said. “I know it looks terrible on the grass.”

The father-son team of Ron Roetto and Cody Roetto have been going door-to-door in the area around Maple and Tyler, which suffered some of the most extensive damage in the metro area.

The Roettos said they decided to “take a chance” and try to earn some extra cash by hauling away the brush piles.

“You’ve got to consider there’s a lot of people that don’t even own chainsaws,” Ron Roetto said. “We’re not a company, but we will do it. It’s a handshake kind of deal.”

Retired District Judge Clark Owens was out piling up dead tree limbs in his front yard Monday evening. The pile, already about 6 feet tall, is only about one-third of the work he has yet to do, he said.

“By the time I get done, half my yard is going to be full,” Owens said. “It’s probably going to take another two days.”

He, like other residents in the area, said he is trying to figure out what to do with the brush pile.

“These trees are really nice to have until you get a storm like this,” Owens said. “It’d be nice if the city would do something about it, but I know they’re tight on budget.”

City landfills have also been dealing with the influx of storm debris. Damon Gorges, office manager at Brooks Landfill, said it has been nearly six times as busy as usual.

He said he drove down 119th Street West on Sunday and saw so much debris still on the ground that “it looked like the storm just happened the night before.”

“It looked pretty nasty on the west side,” Gorges said.

He said homeowners that come in typically aren’t happy they have to pay to dispose of the trash.

“The city decided not to do anything about it, and we go by what they say,” Gorges said.

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