Grass fire causes damage at Baker Wetlands
A boardwalk at the Baker Wetlands was partially destroyed last Tuesday afternoon during what was supposed to be a controlled burn.
About 190 feet of the 850-foot boardwalk was destroyed, said Roger Boyd, a Baker University biology professor who oversees maintenance of the wetlands just south of Lawrence.
Boyd estimates the repair will cost about $3,500. He hopes to have the work done by August. The Jayhawk Audubon Society has donated $1,000 for the boardwalk repair and $200 for a bench as part of a memorial to longtime member Ruth Fauhl.
Boyd said he and four of his students burned an area near the boardwalk and thought they had extinguished the fire before they moved to another section.
"I looked back and saw this huge billowing black smoke and just got sick," Boyd said. "By the time we got back up there the whole west end was engulfed."
Boyd said he has never had any problems with the boardwalk during previous controlled burns. He suspects the fire might have smoldered in the cardboard forms around the concrete piers that support the boardwalk.
"It was so dry," he said. "There was no moisture in that land at all."
Controlled burns are used to keep the wetlands in grass and plants rather than trees. Boyd said he likes to burn each section every two years.
Boyd said that when he and his students saw the smoke, they had to finish burning the stop they were on before they could return to save the remaining boardwalk using their 5-gallon backpack sprayers. Also lost in the fire were three cottonwood trees.
Boyd said he and his students were able to extinguish the blaze themselves. The Wakarusa Township Fire Department did report to the scene.
"There wasn't any danger of it getting anywhere," Boyd said.
Boyd said the fire didn't do any environmental damage to the area and no more grass was burned than was planned.
The boardwalk was built with donated labor and materials, including money from the Jayhawk Audubon Society and support beams made from old utility poles donated by Western Resources.
Anyone who would like to make a contribution to repair the boardwalk at Baker Wetlands can send a check with "boardwalk" written in the memo line to Jayhawk Audubon Society, P.O. Box 3741, Lawrence, 66046.