Vulnerable to fire across the Golden Plains

Thursday, April 13, 2006

When the thunder boomed and the lightning flashed Tuesday afternoon, the people of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas snapped to attention.

The immediate exclamations of surprise went something like this: "Oh, my God! That was so loud. I know it was thunder, but I've never heard thunder that loud before."

As expected, lightning followed, with ferocious flashes piercing through the sky and -- in some cases -- igniting fires on the parched prairies below.

Nature's aerial onslaught was not only spectacular; it was a warning of what can and does happen all across the Great Plains of America.

We're vulnerable, folks ... terribly vulnerable to fire because of prolonged dry weather. We've already seen what can happen. Hundreds of thousands of acres, scores of homes and many precious lives were lost when fires raged across Texas and Oklahoma.

Are we next?

We could be. Conditions are right. Even with the greening of springtime and occasional moisture, unseasonably warm temperatures are increasing the danger of fires. On his way back from Omaha on Wednesday, Gazette Editor Bruce Crosby spotted a number of blazes, including one churning through green grass at Mahoney State Park.

What can we do? According to the National Fire Protection Association, it would pay all of us to make sure our homes' roofs are fire safe. Untreated wood shake roofs are the leading cause of wildland fire losses. A roof made of fire-resistant or non-combustible materials can make your home safer. Also, you can reduce the fire threat by using non-combustible metal screening in eave vents and for windows.

Here are some other fire safety tips from the National Fire Protection Association:

* Sweep gutters, roofs and eaves regularly and remove dead branches from around or near chimneys;

* Create a safety zone or "fire break" around your home;

* Don't burn trash outdoors as sparks from the fire may generate wind-blown sparks and inadvertently start a blaze;

* Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use. Keep children and pets far away from grills;

* In case a wildfire does occur, make sure your address is clearly visible from the road; that emergency vehicles have easy access to the house; and that firefighters will have access to a water supply.


This region's volunteer fire departments take heroic action to come to our aid during fire emergencies. Let's do our part to help by making our homes as fire resistant as humanly possible.

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