A group of Reno and Harvey county farmers and ranchers came to the aid of homeowners whose houses were threatened by wildfires March 6 north of Hutchinson.

The Sandhills Prescribed Burn Association is a group formed to help landowners east of Hutchinson and north of Burrton keep cedar, plum and other brush growth under control with the use of controlled burns, President John McCurry explained Wednesday. PBAs are a relatively new way to organize something farmers and ranchers have long done, help one another out with controlled burns.

To meet that mission, PBAs and their members may have equipment useful for managing grass and brush fires. Firefighting isn’t their purpose, but McCurry said that members had their rigs ready to go March 6 because they knew the wind and low humidity posed a serious fire danger.

That afternoon, Gary Branscom told his daughter the fire was near his home on 95th Avenue between Plum and Lorraine streets. He said she asked if he could use help defending his home from the fire, and he said he definitely could use the help.

“We saw the smoke, and a group of us just headed that way,” north of Hutchinson, McCurry said. “We went right to work, doing what we knew we had to do.”

“I’m sure glad they did,” Branscom said.

McCurry said eight to 10 PBA members drove up with three water rigs to help homeowners defend against the fire. With their help, the fire never got closer than about 50 feet from Branscom’s property line, and when it was clear other houses were at bigger risk, the PBA went to help them, Branscom said.

“I certainly think it (the fire) would have kept coming to my place and probably two other places,” without the PBA members’ help, Branscom said.

He said he thought the short grass on his property and keeping cedar trees away from buildings helped protect his home. McCurry said the group mostly played defense against the fire, using water rigs on pickups to slow its spread, but in one place a landowner used a carefully considered, controlled back burn to create a buffer to the fire’s spread.

“The best way to combat fire is with fire,” he said.

Ryan Boggs, a board member for the prescribed burn association, said the back burn was initiated by the landowner, with advice from association members, in preparation for the wind shift that was forecast for the evening.

“We knew when the wind shifted, there was going to be a problem,” Boggs said.

The back burn was done on a pasture that had no woody brush growth, just grass, he added.

McCurry said the effort was in the nick of time, because the main fire got to within about 3 feet of one house. Some group members stayed until after 2 a.m., Boggs said.Branscom said he views prescribed burn associations as one of the best tools available to help manage wildfire risk in the sand hills.

“I hope they get the PBAs to keep growing and expanding, because if they don’t, it isn’t going to get any better,” he said.

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