Nathan Brunner of Tampa is all business when it comes to providing controlled burns for landowners. He and his uncle, Leonard Jirak of Hartford, are operators of Fire 4 Hire, an official contractor with the Kansas Forestry Service and the Natural Resources and Conservation Service. They are authorized to work throughout the state.
Jirak is the burn boss and Brunner is the fire technician.
“Our main goal is to rejuvenate the ground to provide high-protein grass for cattle, and eliminate brush and other undesirable plants,” Brunner said.
Two 4x4 pickup trucks carry 250-gallon water tanks and pull several all-terrain vehicles on trailers. The trucks are insured with the state.
The men are authorized to draw water from ponds and creeks, and often get water from nearby towns or cities.
They do burns for people who can’t do it themselves, such as those who own land in Kansas and live somewhere else.
They assess a per-acre charge, the cost of each job dependent on potential hazards, personnel needed, water resources, and insurance costs.
Brunner said the insurance is “very expensive” and the application requires several pages of details about each job.
The men spend four to six hours in preparation for each job. They are required to have a burn plan on file and notify the county dispatch office and local fire districts in each county. Brunner said each county has its own regulations. Some have stricter rules than others.
“Our No. 1 priority is the general public,” Brunner said. “We note the weather conditions and check on the wind direction to make sure we produce a minimum of smoke in highly populated areas. We try to keep the fire and smoke away from roads and homes.”
Fire 4 Hire has completed two burns so far this spring. The first was at Hays Medical Center. With a crew of four, the men burned 12 adjacent acres of native grass containing a conservation trail. The second burn was north of Rossville, where they burned 80 acres of pasture and Conservation Reserve Program grass.
Brunner said the drought of the past two years has decreased the number of burn jobs; however, government-required burns of CRP grass keeps them busy. Also, fire departments no longer aid in conducting controlled burns because of the liability involved in them. That has added to the demand for private services.
The technicians have a “mutual aid” agreement with the other nine official fire contractors that work in the state whenever more help is needed.
Brunner, 25, and his uncle both have a lot of experience in fighting fires.
Brunner has been a member of the Tampa fire department since he graduated from Centre High School in 2005. He took wildland management classes at Hutchinson Community College and has a certificate in Fire I.
Jirak was with the Kansas Fish and Wildlife Department for many years and assisted with prescribed burns. Now retired, he practices wildlife management on property he owns and leases.
Speaking of their work, Brunner said, “We’re not just going out there and doing it as a fun thing. There is a benefit to it.”