Manter, KS Seed Farm Saved Thanks to Early Wildfire Alert from CivicPlus
A Wildfire Warning from an Unexpected Text Message
On April 17, 2018, the conditions in Colorado and Kansas were ripe for destruction. It was a day of above-average heat, drought conditions, and high winds—the ideal combination for a brush fire to morph into a raging blaze. Sipes was not at home on April 17 when the fires were initially identified. She was 45 minutes away by car in the City of Ulysses, KS visiting a friend. Being any distance from home when dangerous conditions threaten your property and family is a terrifying proposition, which is why Sipes is grateful for having received a text message alert that allowed her to put into motion what would become life and property saving efforts for herself, her farm, and her community.
“While I was visiting with my friend in Ulysses, I received a text message on my cell phone that there was a fire in our county,” said Sipes.
The text message was a CivicPlus mass notification alert issued by the Stanton County, Kansas Sheriff’s Department. It was an alert that Sipes had forgotten she signed up to receive several years prior to the County first implementing the Mass Notification system, but it was enough to set her into motion to protect her farm and her community.
“That text message told me something was up at home, and I knew I had to leave Ulysses,” Sipes said.
The text message allowed Sipes to immediately act to warn other residents and protect her home.
“Receiving that text message was amazing,” said Sipes. “I started calling my neighbors in case they didn’t receive the alert to tell them to leave their homes. I called a friend of mine to warn her about the fire as well.”
Fortunately, Sipes’ friend had also received the warning text message. Unfortunately, her property was in imminent danger, as she told Sipes, “I know. The fire is heading for my house.”
“My friend was on her way back to her house because she received that text message,” said Sipes.
Sipes next contacted her husband, Ron, a man who, like so many in Manter, is a selfless citizen and protector of the community. As he had done a few years previously when another wildfire threatened Stanton County, upon learning of the wildfires, Ron Sipes immediately got on the highway with his tractor. He was heading toward the center of Manter hoping his equipment and efforts could help contain the fire’s spread and save lives and property. He told his wife to stay outside Manter because the fire had turned toward their home.
“My husband, my nephew, and one of hired men spent the next 36 hours trying to make sure the fire could not touch our feed facility,” said Sipes. “And they were successful. Our houses and facilities were not touched by flames—only a few fields. It would have put us out of business permanently if our farm had been damaged. Our entire stored crop would have burned. It was a hefty job, but they pulled it off.”
Continuing her alert and warning efforts, Sipes next called the tenants of her five rental properties.
“I told them to gather their important documents, their toothbrushes, and a change of clothes, and get out,” said Sipes.
Unable to drive her vehicle through the smoke surrounding Manter to reach her home, Sipes did her best to aid the community’s first responders while waiting for the smoke to clear.
“I made a few trips to town to bring water to our volunteer firefighters,” said Sipes.
With the fires raging for hours, Sipes spent much of the night resting in her vehicle on the edge of town, waiting for the smoke to clear enough for her to drive home safely. Even in the darkest moments of the Badger Hole fire, however, Sipes—and her fellow neighbors—were neither alone nor forgotten.
“In the middle of the night, the County Sheriff stopped by where I was sleeping in my Chevy Tahoe,” said Sipes. “He woke me up and seeing that I was alone asked if I knew where my nephew Jim was. I told him yes that Jim was with our other two guys fighting the fire. The Sheriff said, ‘Good. That’s the last person I needed to find.’” With gratitude in her voice, Sipes adds, “That was 3:00 AM. The Sheriff stayed up all night making sure every single citizen was accounted for.”
Minimizing Losses Through Quick Actions
The Sipes’ were fortunate not to incur any property damage during the Badger Hole Fire. By the time the fire had subsided, the flames had damaged railway infrastructure, bridges, and left marks on paved roads where the fire had licked across the street. Not all residents were as lucky as the Sipes’ however.
“Several farmsteads were destroyed,” said Sipes. “But no one lost their life, and there were no significant injuries. We were lucky, but a lot of our success had to do with getting that advanced text message.”
A Community United in Recovery
Today, the residents of Manter and their neighbors in Stanton County and Baca, Colorado are focused on recovery.
“We’re holding a benefit to raise money to help replenish our firefighters’ equipment that was damaged in the Badger Hole Fire,” said Sipes.
It is the kind of camaraderie, support, and community spirit that defines the people of Manter.
“We are a helpful community,” said Sipes. “We have to be. We have less than one person per square mile. Everyone has their place in the community, and we don’t want to lose anyone. There is a lot of kindness around here.”
As for Sipes’ friend who also received the CivicPlus emergency alert, her quick reaction to the notification allowed her to minimize losses to her property as well.
“She was able to get her aged mother, her dog, her cat, and her son into a vehicle and get them to relative safety just as the fire was leaping up around the cement wall around her yard,” said Sipes. “All the grass and everything around her home were burning, including the electric poles and the fence line. She was also able to move her cattle as far as she could given all the smoke. She was able to move them far enough that in the end, she lost very few. Her husband was up all night fighting the fire.”
The Power of Knowledge when Every Second Counts
The Badger Hole Fire was announced as contained on April 20, but not before 50,670 acres of land between Colorado and Kansas has been burned. The conflagration also destroyed several homes and farms, resulting in losses to livestock and property. Sipes is grateful not only for her friends and neighbors in Manter but that she received the CivicPlus text message alerting her to imminent danger at home.
“Receiving that early text message allowed us to coordinate our safety activity,” said Sipes.
Since her experience with the Badger Hole Fire, she has become an advocate for her fellow residents to sign up for CivicPlus Mass Notification alerts from her County Sheriff’s Department.
“I had forgotten that several years ago when our Sheriff’s department first implement the alert system that I had signed up for alerts,” said Sipes. “At first, I didn’t know who sent the alert, but then I realized it was [CivicPlus]. That’s how you were able to help us. Your text message got us alert enough to put our safety measures into action and helped us to coordinate with one another. It would be so helpful if more people signed up for this system. That way, when these fires happen, they will know to abandon their houses or get their tractors out. We can do a lot to stop these fires if we know about them soon enough. And people will help. I think [CivicPlus] is one of the best assets our County can have. No one can wait for someone else to save them. We have to be prepared to save ourselves.”
If your community is at risk of wildfires, click here to read our Ultimate Local Government Wildfire Preparedness Guide for resident communication best practices. If you're ready to implement a multi-channel emergency mass notification system you can rely on in an emergency, take a self-guided tour of our Mass Notification system.