On March 6, grass fires spread throughout Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The fires started in Oklahoma and then move on to Clark County. Seward County had it’s own grass fire that day burning through 10 different property plots, even destroying some.
These fires are being described as unstoppable. Several counties evacuated residents. As the firemen and volunteers got the flames under control, areas opened back up, giving residents their first look at the devastation.
A Seward County Community College student, Javier “Esteban” Avitia, worked on the fire line not only outside of town but helping out in other counties. He helped save lives as millions of dollars of property and livestock went up in flames around him. Avitia, an EMT and firefighter for Seward County, said the fire got a little too close for comfort one day.
“Our crew of three were the first to respond to the incident the fire truck. We showed up to the scene and immediately attempted to prevent it from reaching a homestead. After several minutes the truck started to overheat.
“We stopped and our driver began spraying water into the radiator. As he was doing this, I could see the fire advancing quickly towards us,” Avitia said. “I warned him and he hopped back in and attempted to move the truck out of the way. The truck stalled, and before we knew it, the heat began to overwhelm us and the flames got nearer. Pretty soon, the flames had reached the back of our truck and any of our attempts to extinguish the fire were shot down. At this point the other two firemen and I decided there was nothing we could do but run. We jumped out and ran to our Chief’s vehicle.
“The incident itself was frightening,” Avitia admitted. “The extreme heat was overwhelming. There comes a point where one has to just forget everything, and run. We reached that point and that’s what we did.”
Although the fires are being described as unstoppable, Avitia thinks otherwise. “I wouldn’t describe them as unstoppable. I would call them extremely difficult to control and extremely dangerous,” he explained. “With no wind, a grass fire, depending on size and other factors, can be easily contained.These fires, however, are not unstoppable.”
Avitia mentioned that the recent grass fires are fueled and spread rapidly by strong winds. The strong winds fuel the fires by providing oxygen and spreading the flames further and faster.
During the fire that occurred in Seward County, the fire burned over 5,000 acres of crops and grass. It also burned four houses, several vehicles, telephone poles, oil field equipment, a department brush truck, and fences. No one was hurt. Avitia said that at first the fire was hard to control because the high-speed winds and low visibility made operations difficult.
“We approached the fire from the front and attempted as best we could to prevent it from advancing towards and structures. We continued to fight it from the front and sides until we had it under control” explained Avitia.
Avitia has been a firefighter since 2016 and has experienced other fires, but nothing compared to the ones occurring now. “The fires were different, because they weren’t as large and devastating as the recent ones. Also, this is the first grass fire that I have experienced that spread as quickly as it did.”
The main goal for all the firefighter is to keep fires from spreading.
“During grass fires, such as the ones occurring recently, we take our brush trucks and fight the fires from the front and the sides,” he said.
Once this goal is accomplished they can focus on fires that aren’t spreading such as structures, vehicles, and/or trees. Another great help are the farmers.
“Farmers provide a great deal of help by bringing their discs and plowing a dirt barrier to keep the fire from spreading further,” Avitia said.
People may feel that firefighter have to be out stopping the fires and helping others, but Avitia is not in it for just the job.
“I completely enjoy helping others! To me, it’s not a job; it’s something I GET to do,” he said. “I love helping people and being there for them at some of their lowest points in their lives.”
Avitia strives to make a difference.
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“I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I served my community and state and that I played a part in making a difference.”
The fires have caused so much damage. People have lost their homes, but luckily counties have come together and have helped out anyone who had to leave their homes behind.
“I pray for them and hope that they can overcome their situations and get back on their feet quickly,” the SCCC student said.
The communities have really been appreciative of the work and help the firefighters have been doing.
“I’ve personally had great support from friends and family. They appreciate the job we do. We’ve also had great support from the community itself. People tell us that if they can do anything for us, to let them know,” Avitia said. “While performing mop-up, making sure all hotspots and any fires are extinguished, on the Tuesday afternoon, we had someone donate sandwiches, chips, and drinks so we could eat while out in the field. To us, that meant a lot. Overall, I think people have come to appreciate firemen and we’re appreciate their support.”