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Waldo Fire Department stepped in for those in need

Sandblasted windshields and the melted front of fire trucks hold memories in all the minds of...
Sandblasted windshields and the melted front of fire trucks hold memories in all the minds of the crews that battle the flames in Paradise and Russell on December 15.(KWCH)
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 10:57 AM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The firetrucks in Waldo, Kan. still sport the battle scars from the wildfires last month. Sandblasted windshields and melted front of the fire trucks hold memories in all the minds of the crews that battle the flames in Paradise and Russell on December 15.

Waldo Fire Chief Dustin Finkenbinder said the sky was so dark they had to rely on another sense to find the fire.

“Our initial fire that we were paged out to we didn’t find that by sight,” Finkenbinder said. “We had to find it by smell, which was scary in itself.”

As the winds kept changing direction, it trapped fire crews inside the blaze. With the firewall more than 15 miles wide, the Waldo fire department and surrounding rural fire departments couldn’t get ahead of the fire. Finkenbinder says they can’t train for a fire of that magnitude.

“We can’t train for that,” he said. “To say we weren’t to say we weren’t prepared for it is probably not the right way to phrase it. We know what we’re doing, but just not not on that scale.”

The town of Waldo was spared, but for Paradise and Russell they weren’t so lucky. Finkenbinder said it’s unimaginable to see the destruction, well knowing that could have been him.

“To see your neighbors that lost everything, your friends lost everything, their homes, livelihoods, and these are people that you just saw maybe two hours before,” Finkenbinder said. “You talked to him at their house and now it’s gone. All their cattle are gone, their equipment, homes, clothes, everything.”

Dozens of trucks of hay and supplies have reached these farmers and ranchers sent from states away. Finkenbinder says this is what the rural community does in a time of need.

“In this area, I guess that’s just what we do,” he said. “If someone needs help we help them and you know it may be someone that you don’t get along with but you put aside your differences and do what you can to help.”

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