RILEY COUNTY (KSNT) – Recent fires that flared up in Riley County burned hundreds of acres before finally being put out thanks, in large part, to local volunteer firefighters.

Several large wildfires broke out across Riley County in the past week, with one burning approximately 2,000 acres before it was contained. Firefighters from various agencies responded to the situation, including a large number of volunteers from the local area. Volunteers like Richard Kirmer see it as a personal duty to the community to pitch in during emergencies.

“I just thought I should join the Fire Department because I’m a member of the community,” Kirmer said. “A lot of the locals that I work with were on it. I never was so I decided to be a part of it too.”

Kirmer, who has born north of Topeka but later moved to Riley County, has been living in the area for around 12 years and spends most of his time doing ranch work and hauling goods like cattle and hay commercially. He said during one wildfire in the past, he used his tractor to help create a fire break, or an obstacle to stop the spread of a fire. Ever since, he’s been helping out by volunteering along with many other locals who keep an eye out for fires and try to respond as quickly as they can.

“Sometimes you don’t have time to make a plan. You just go,” Kirmer said. “You meet up there with others to talk it out and figure out a plan.”

Kirmer went on to say during the past three weeks, they’ve battled several wildfires. His main task lately has been to keep the fire away from houses by creating fire breaks and back burns, which are controlled fires that reduce the amount of fuel available for the wildfire. He also keeps an eye out for scattered embers, which might ignite anything near a house or structure, as well as put the lives of nearby farm animals in danger.

“There were two fires where livestock were in danger,” Kirmer said. “But we were able to put the fires out before they could reach the livestock.”

Long shifts are not uncommon for a volunteer firefighter. Kirmer said he was part of a night crew keeping an eye on a fire and he stayed well into the following day to help keep the situation under control.

“We all pitch in where we have to,” Kirmer said.

Deputy Fire Chief Doug Russell with Riley County Fire District 1 said volunteers are an essential part of their response to wildfires. Many of them come from the countryside and are motivated to protect their neighbors during emergencies. In light of the recent fires, Russell said without volunteers their job would’ve been much more challenging.

“They were absolutely imperative to it,” Deputy Fire Chief Doug Russell said. “They worked their butts off. Without those guys and gals, we wouldn’t have been able to get through the day.”

Kirmer said the difficulty in stopping the most recent fires was largely due to where they were located. While fires out in a field are easy to spot and attack, those located in thick brush or in forests pose a much more demanding issue.

“The last week, they’ve been in very wooded areas, pretty much a forest area,” Kirmer said. “Not much you can do besides watch it and catch it when it comes out.”

Throughout the week, most fire departments only have a handful of volunteers to call upon for wildfires, as many have jobs of their own and only respond in emergency situations.

“During the day we’re limited to one or two guys per truck,” Kirmer said. “Evenings and weekends, you can have three or four times that. Anywhere from four or five guys on a call to 20 guys on a call.”

Kirmer stressed the need for more volunteers, as the station that he works at, Riley County Fire District 1, is often short-handed, especially when wildfires appear as they did in the past week. According to Kirmer, 75-80% of all firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers.

“We need more volunteers,” Kirmer said. “Our station specifically, we only have five people that are active that go out on calls. We did have a couple more, but they retired and can’t physically do it anymore. We need more young volunteers and people who can help when they can.”

To check out how to volunteer at the Riley County Fire District 1, go to their website here.