The Red Flag fire warnings issued by the National Weather Service Thursday and Friday began in central and eastern Colorado and New Mexico and spread all the way to central Missouri, covering all but the northernmost Kansas counties.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called Thursday’s fire danger “extreme” and the winds settled only slightly Friday.

The NWS issues Red Flag Warnings when conditions are ideal for wildland fire and rapid spreading; those conditions are ripe in southwest Kansas right now.

The last time Dodge City saw over an inch of rain in a 24-hour period was Sept. 25, 2017. Since that date Dodge City has seen only just over a half-inch of precipitation. The Jan. 11 storm that blew through the area left 1.2 inches of snow but that amounts to only .09 inches of actual moisture.

Despite the prolonged dryness, the danger for wildfires has yet to peak. According to Mike Umscheid, meteorologist at the NWS in Dodge City, said the area’s fire “season” is late winter to early spring.

“Our fire season peaks in mid to late March right before our big spring rains,” he said.

Last year’s early spring wildfires caused an estimated $50 million in damage. At least 40 homes were destroyed along more than 100 other structures like barns and sheds. Some 8,000 cattle were killed and thousands of miles of fencing burned.

The formula for wildfire is no secret. Prolonged periods without measurable precipitation, combined with low relative humidity and gale-force winds can turn an errant spark into a miles-wide inferno that fire crews struggle to catch.

Ford County Fire Captain Cody German said the county has not instituted a burn ban yet, but he could see that happening in the very near future.

“Everything is just dry,” he said. “Then the wind and low humidity doesn’t help things either. Put those three things together and it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

German said the biggest danger for starting accidental wildfires this time of year is careless equipment operation.

“It’s things like safety chains dragging down the highway throwing sparks,” German said. “With conditions like we have today even that would get a fire started.”

Unfortunately, there’s not a great chance for precipitation any time soon and fire conditions will continue to be precarious. Umscheid said the area is a dry and relatively warm pattern with windy days mixed throughout.

Below-freezing temperatures and virtually non-existent moisture in the air “cures out” the fuel in grasses so they carry fire very easily, according to Umscheid.

“We’ll see some dangerous fire conditions continue,” Umscheid said.

To contact the writer email