In February we posted some statistics showing that historically there is a large spike in wildfire activity in March and April in Kansas. The spring is also a time when many, many ranchers conduct prescribed fires in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma. This year between February 27 and May 5, 2.7 million acres were treated with prescribed fire.
Referring to the bar graph below, and throwing out the two busiest and the two slowest data points, in a typical year land managers in the Flint Hills burn between 1.1 million and 2.8 million acres.
We thank Eric Ward of the Kansas Forest Service for providing these graphics compiled by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment..
Far more acres burn in March and April in Kansas than the other months.
Wildfire occurrence data collected by the Kansas Fire Incident Reporting System shows that over an 11-year period, from 2004 through 2014, there were two spikes in the number of reported fires during the year — in March/April and in July. However, by far, most of the acres burned in March and April.
Below are excerpts from a Kansas State University article written by Chip Redmond and Mary Knapp of the University’s Weather Data library.
“…Of the eleven years of recorded KFIRS data, 2014 had both the most land area burned (187,500 acres) and the highest number of reported fires (8,075) in a year. In both land area and number, fires followed the typical curve of the previous 10 years, with a peak during the spring months of March and April.
This trend of spring wildfires coincides very well with prescribed burning season. Early spring is typically characterized by dead/cured fuels, warming temperatures, low relative humidity, and little precipitation. Often, if the late fall and winter are below normal in precipitation and/or the region is in a drought, these spring conditions are enhanced – providing explosive conditions for fire growth.
This was the case entering 2014. However, conditions were worsened by an increased fuel load from late summer rains of 2013 that brought some relief to the prolonged drought which peaked in 2012.These combined factors led to a peak of 156,600 acres burning in March/April 2014 alone. Of the 61 days possible in March and April, almost half (29) had more than 1000 acres burned statewide each day. Two days (Jan. 26 and Feb. 19) occurred outside of these months. Below, the March/April calendar with red days were those in which more than 1000 acres statewide were burned. Cold frontal passages throughout the period are marked on their associated day. Continue reading “March and April are historically busy for wildland firefighters in Kansas”
After the discussions on Wildfire Today about the use of prescribed fire in the Flint Hills of Kansas here and here, we, along with some of our readers, have been paying more attention to the use of fire in the state. Over the last 24 hours the weather in Kansas and Oklahoma must have been perfect for burning, because satellite images and the MODIS heat-detecting satellite have picked up a great deal of heat and smoke in the area.
The visual satellite image above shows smoke in northeastern Oklahoma and eastern Kansas at 5:01 CDT, April 11, 2013.
The map above shows heat detected by the MODIS satellite during the 24 hours previous to 7 p.m. CDT, April 11, 2014.
And speaking of smoke, the image below shows smoke detected by radar today from a fire in Horican Marsh, midway between the towns of Horicon and Waupun in Wisconsin. Click here to see an animation of the smoke as the fire increased in size.
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.