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Range control personnel keep wildland fires in check with controlled burns

March 18, 2022 | By Bailey Hittle

When the weather is hot and dry in Kansas, the potential for wildland fires increases. When the wind is brisk, as is often the case, such fires spread rapidly, destroying valuable farmland, homes, and infrastructure.

To head off such dangers, the Range Control personnel at the Kansas Training Center near Salina conducted a series of controlled burns Feb. 28 to March 2. The burns eliminated dry grass, shrubs and other potential fuel sources and had the added benefit of allowing new growth of native grasses that provide food for the wildlife that calls the range home. The burns were also good practice for the fire control team.

“Range Control personnel are required to complete Wildland Red Card qualification and maintain their certification yearly,” said Capt. Hans Stephensen, battalion executive officer. “This is a crucial additional duty for all Range Control personnel that enables them to better protect the training land and ensure the ranges are ready for training season.”

Approximately 1,200 acres of the range were burned over the three-day period. The controlled fires were carried out by Sgt. 1st Class Paul Dornberger, range fire chief, and his team: Staff Sgt. Jerry Johnson, Staff Sgt. Patrick Montgomery, Sgt. Clarke Mitchell and Sgt. Krista Morris.

Stephensen said controlled burns are done twice a year, typically in the fall and in the spring.

“We rotate what we burn and only burn about 1/3 of the training land a year,” said Stephensen, “so that puts the entire range on a three-year burning cycle. This reduces fuel loads, because tracer rounds fired on the range are always a fire hazard.”