Kansas State University, K-State Research and Extension, and Kansas Forest Service are all represented on the Kansas Interagency Wildfire Council (KIWC). KIWC consists of federal and state agencies whom focus on wildfires, their impacts, and prevention. For the third year, Governor Sam Brownback has signed a proclamation from KIWC designating February 19-25, 2017 as Wildfire Awareness Week.
In 2016, Barber County had the largest wildfire in Kansas history with the Anderson Creek fire.
More than 250,000 acres burned in Barber County alone in that fire. In 2015, 5,945 wildfires were reported in Kansas resulting in 21 injuries and nearly $4.9 million in property loss and damage. Kansas averages around 6,000 wildfires totaling 150,000 acres each year. A majority of these fires occur in the spring and are the result of human activities.
If you are planning a burn to manage grassland, clear ditches, or remove trash/debris – check the fire weather not only for the day of the burn, but for several days after. Fire weather is defined as the state of the weather with regards to available fuel and spread of fires. Days with high fire danger include those with warm temperatures, low humidity and high winds. In Kansas, the National Weather Service offices may issue a “Red Flag Warning” when conditions are particularly explosive. When the fire danger is high, pay extra attention to any outdoor fires, even trash bins, campfires, or grills.
This spring may be particularly active for several reasons:
- last summer had good growing conditions, providing ample fuel
- the winter has been mostly dry, with little snow to pack down the fuel
- dry fall into winter has cured 100- to 1000-hour fuels, making them more susceptible to burning
- persistent days above normal temperatures are creating an increase of high fire danger
Abundant surface soil moisture won’t necessarily slow fire progress. Often, when emergency personnel are working wildfires in the spring, they get stuck in the mud. Dormant vegetation isn’t taking up this moisture and is drying/curing much faster than 10-1000 hour fuels, which makes control difficult. In general terms, 100- to 1000-hour fuels are different sizes of branches/dead trees. Smaller branches would be 100-hour fuels; downed/dead trees would be 1000-hour fuels. It takes more time to dry/wet them — more time to cure and get them dry enough to start burning, and more time to put them out. Grass and weed residues are one-hour fuels.
During Wildfire Awareness Week, KIWC and first responders remind all Kansas citizens to exercise safe, responsible behavior when conducting outdoor burning, now and during the coming season. More than 80% of first responders are volunteers and some extra vigilance from those who are burning goes a long way to reducing the occurrence of wild land fire, the resulting injuries and property loss, and the demand on those volunteers.