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Fire danger soars with record-breaking temperatures expected Thursday

Numerous cities across Kansas — including Wichita — will see record highs on Thursday. Yet it’s the wind that people will be talking about.
Numerous cities across Kansas — including Wichita — will see record highs on Thursday. Yet it’s the wind that people will be talking about. File photo

Numerous cities across Kansas — including Wichita — will see record highs on Thursday.

Yet it’s the wind that people will be talking about around the Sunflower State. Southwest winds could top 50 miles an hour at times in the Wichita area, weather officials said.

74Wichita’s record temperature for Feb. 18, set in 1930

The National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday for 26 counties in central and southern Kansas. A red flag warning has been issued for the same time period for 15 counties in southwest Kansas.

Sedgwick County Fire Marshal Dan Wegner said gusty winds earlier in the week have been a good primer for residents, and he’s not expecting careless fires to be an issue on Thursday.

“People have been pretty cautious” so far this week, Wegner said. “Hopefully, everyone keeps using good common sense and not trying to burn when the winds are up.”

At the speeds forecasters are talking about, Wegner said he is anticipating wind-related damage to be more of an issue than grass fires — though downed power lines could spark flames.

If that happens, he said, “we could have a mess on our hands.”

80 Expected high in Wichita on Thursday

The Wichita Fire Department will have two additional fire units on duty Thursday to help deal with any fires that occur, Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said.

On Wednesday, sparks from a passing train ignited a grass fire next to Zoo Boulevard between Central and 13th shortly after noon on Wednesday, authorities said. Crews responded quickly and kept the flames from reaching a nearby apartment complex.

Firefighters also battled a grass fire later Wednesday afternoon near I-235 and Meridian.

Wichita’s record for Feb. 18 – 74 degrees in 1930 – is likely to fall, said Vanessa Pearce, a meteorologist with the weather service. The current forecast for Thursday calls for a high of 80 in Wichita. Another record could be set on Friday, Pearce said.

The fire danger is increased this time of year, Crisp said, because vegetation is dead, dormant and dry.

“Our concern grows a little greater when things aren’t green and lush,” Crisp said.

With high winds, “a small grass fire is going to grow into a large grass fire pretty quickly,” he said. “That poses a challenge to any fire department.”

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger

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