The prairie fire was the most terrifying threat to the early settlers of Kansas. The fires destroyed everything in its path and could rarely be prevented. The fires were as unpredictable as they were destructive. The most common causes of the prairie fires were lightning strikes, cooking fires, and mistakes made by man.
The Kansas newspapers of that time contained frequent references and description of prairie fires in various parts of the state. The following is an excerpt from the Walnut Valley Times on March 19, 1875.
"Stop the Prairie fire! In the name of all that is good, stop the prairie fires at once! Sop the prairie fires and you stop drought, hot winds and parched crops. Stop the prairie fires and you fill up your springs, cause the streams to flow, fill the earth with moisture, cause thousands of young trees to spring up over the earth and enrich you lands a hundred-fold. Stop the prairie fires and Kansas is a Garden of Eden. Continue them and it will ever continue to be an American desert. For Heaven's sake, stop the Prairie fire."
Prairie fires were an almost daily occurrence in the early days of Salina. The following is a letter written by a Salina area resident to relatives living back East.
"The timber is mostly cottonwood, with considerable oak and ash, but no evergreens. Most of the ground is black now for it is burned over every year except as the land is improved, and the fire kept out for winter grazing. These fires are the cause of there being no more wood, for burning over every year kills any young trees that have started, but when the fire is kept out the tree's startup of themselves from the seed blowing. I expect in the fall to see the prairies burn when there is a hard wind. It is one of the grandest sights in the world. The fire runs faster than horses can and will often overtake and burn them. There have been two small in sight since we have been here in the night, about 25 or 30 miles off, and I can assure you it was some sight."
During this time in Kansas's history, the prairie fire was the most frightening natural disaster. Settlers plowed areas around their farms that were called fire guards. Many towns in Kansas regularly burned off considerable areas surrounding the towns to provide fire protection. Even with these measures, fire protection was very limited.