Prescribed fire as a hands-on tourist attraction

Flint Hills Rx
Prescribed fire ignited by tourists at the Flying W Ranch in Kansas. Screen shot from the video below.

A cattle ranch in the tall grass prairie of Kansas allows tourists to observe and if they want, to help ignite prescribed fires on their property. The Flying W Ranch in the Flint Hills supplements their income by charging ranch visitors $100 to help start the fires by dropping wooden matches in the grass. We counted approximately 30 tourists in one of the scenes in the video below. The admission fee also includes a steak dinner. Their next hands-on prescribed fire is scheduled for April 5.

We can think of a lot of positives about an activity like this. Many ranchers could use an additional $3,000 (before expenses) to supplement their income.  It could also provide an opportunity to educate the public about the benefits of prescribed fire, and how the process is essential for managing tall grass prairies and other vegetation types. In my experience as a Fire Management Officer, I learned that if you have a high-ranking manager in your organization that knows little about fire management, invite them to observe a prescribed fire. Loan them some personal protective equipment (PPE), and while under close supervision, let them operate a drip torch for five minutes. They will be hooked. (After seeing this video, a couple of matches could suffice.)

The negatives of a public hands-on prescribed fire are pretty obvious and revolve around the liability of the ranch owner and the safety of the participants who have no PPE or training, other than a briefing before the event. If there is an unexpected wind shift on a grass fire, experienced firefighters wearing PPE know that often they can find a place where they can step through the flames into a previously burned black area. Who knows what tourists, including children, might do.  It is hard to believe that an insurance company would issue a liability policy to cover an event like this.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Tristan

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

7 thoughts on “Prescribed fire as a hands-on tourist attraction”

  1. This ranch has been offering this for 10-15 years it not new. Plus I get tired of all the NWCG nonsense and people thinking they are the only ones that can burn. I work with and train landowners throughout the Great Plains and we don’t even mention NWCG mainly because we want to get something done. Not write a plan about it and think about for years. I will put these private landowners up against any “trained smokey bear” crew around, plus they get stuffed burned. Private landowners in KS and OK typically burn 3-4 million acres a year.

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  2. I do not intend to pretend to know about this particular rancher, or all about fire in KS. I would just say that until you get to see “burn day” in the flint hills, I would reserve judgement on what is going on there. As a person with some RXB experience it something to see how they operate in this area to burn very large tracks of land. Try to keep an open mind about this and the culture that surrounds it.

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  3. OOOOOh this is awesome can’t wait to see the tragedy on NBC. I like the way Brian covers mass casualty events. I’ll bet one of the phrases we’ll hear is “I never thought that would happen, I mean wow the wind came up so did the flames. I mean they said the wind would blow out of the south today. They told us it was OK and safe and all.”

    Yep anyone can burn you know us government types we make way too much out of safety. Always making things more difficult than they need to be. See it doesn’t have to cost anything, the gov’t is just scaming the people.

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    1. I can’t speak directly to this operation – I’m aware of it, but not personally familiar. I can say, though, that landowners in the Flint Hills of Kansas burn from 2 to 5 Million (yes, with an M) acres in an average year, and many have far more prescribed fire experience (measured in years, acres, OR total burns) than a lot of RXB’s have. Many of the large landowners safely burn thousands of acres every year, and probably have a better rate of escapes than a lot of state and fed agencies. They don’t do it “our” way, but they are safe and effective, and they know what they’re doing. They may not know what a Haines Index is, but they know from 50 years of practice how to know when the weather isn’t right for it. And they do check forecasts, monitor smoke impacts, etc., and are getting more organized and more professional all the time. Yes, there are few goofballs among them, as in most agencies, but the real farmers and ranchers are truly experts in what they do. Now the city slickers that moved to the country…different story altogether. That’s a story for another day.

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      1. But this isn’t about those ranchers is it. There is nothing about this that doesn’t say negligence. I would like to see some documentation on 2 to 5 million acres pretty high amount, pretty large spread between 2 and 5 million. I burn between 5 and 7 thousand a year and I’m confident that there isn’t a rancher that is better at it than us. That isn’t arrogance that is confidence, all I do is prepare and train. 22 years worth. I’ve been around plenty of private operations and no I’m not buying that! But it is your story.

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        1. The acreage varies greatly with weather, and usually occurs during the March/April time frame. If it’s rainy, or if it’s too dry and windy, it’s on the lower end of that range, if it’s better burn weather, it’ll be on the high end. Some years it’s black from horizon to horizon, others not so much. The acreage estimates are from work done in recent years on the state’s Smoke Management Plan by a a wide variety of private, industry, state, and fed partners. I was just corrected that it was more in the 2M range, probably not up to 5 as I’d heard, based on recent satellite imagery studies, but again varies from year to year. I know first-hand of folks that’ll do in the 20,000 acres range in a typical year.

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  4. Hoooooo boy ……..

    This ought to generate enough responses from the LMA community to power a small town of about 1200…..

    Lighting up my Jiffy Pop popcorn to watch the forum show…….

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