The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) says the average annual acreage burned in the Flint Hills during the prescribed fire season was almost matched over the past month. Most of the burning is related to agriculture, improving pastures or preparing crop lands.
Almost 2.1 million acres of grassland were treated with fire between March 15 and April 12. KDHE said roughly 2.5 million acres are burned annually.
The reporting time period includes 21 counties in Kansas and Oklahoma.
KDHE said burns from April 8-9 caused six air quality exceedances across parts of Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. There were no air quality exceedances due to burns last year.
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Fires raced through grasslands in Kansas this week, drawing the National Guard, which captured this photo.
A series of wildfires have burned thousands of acres of grasslands in Kansas this week, and while relief might be in sight, there’s still a full day of volatile conditions ahead, officials say.
“Friday will be a very dangerous day for fire weather in many areas of the state. Some areas will see catastrophic fire weather conditions,” the Kansas Division of Emergency Management said.
Most of the state is under red flag or high wind warnings with forecast to gusts up to 40 mph in some areas Friday. Temperatures around 70 degrees are expected to drop into the 50s this weekend, with rain in the forecast, according to the National Weather Service.
Fires erupted Wednesday. Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer made an emergency declaration for three of the fires burning in Rice County and deployed Black Hawk helicopters from the Kansas National Guard to assist in the response.
According to The Wichita Eagle, state officials tracked 45 fires across the state on Thursday alone, with several breaking out in the Kansas City area. The fires burned an estimated 13,000 acres, and many remained active or out of control.
One of the farms we visted today was the site of the incredible wall of fire in this photo. I am amazed at the resiliency of Kansans and our ability to come back stronger after facing adversity. #kslegpic.twitter.com/UT8STBrfcX
A series of wildfires raced through grasslands in rural Kansas Wednesday, scorching swaths of land and drawing local firefighters and the Kansas National Guard.
The fires began midday Wednesday, primarily in Rice County in central Kansas. Fanned by gusty winds, the fire quickly became visible on radar imagery and the GOES-16 Satellite, as shown in these images from the National Weather Service’s Wichita bureau.
“Wind is the huge factor in the tall grass,” Rice County Emergency Management Director Greg Kline told reporters at the scene of one of the fires. “Access to some of these locations is very tough at times.”
Details about the estimated number of acres burned were not immediately available. But Kline said the three separate fires in Rice County were estimated to be about 2 miles wide and about 4 miles long at their farthest points.
Reno County Task Force still actively working large grass fire in Rice County. Units currently working south of Ave Q lighting back fires. pic.twitter.com/jcMndx2dUF
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer on Wednesday morning made an emergency declaration for three of the fires burning in Rice County and deployed Black Hawk helicopters from the Kansas National Guard to assist in the response.
Plus, the entire state is currently classified as “abnormally dry” with a large pocket of southern Kansas categorized as being in an “extreme drought,”
Very high and extreme fire danger is anticipated for Thursday and Friday, with forecasted temperatures in the 70s and wind gusts up to 30 mph. Cooler temperatures and rain could be on the way for the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
Still a huge wild fire in Rice County as of 308PM. Several fire crews are battling it. The smoke plume extends through McPherson, Dickinson and Saline Counties.
Above: Wildfires detected by a satellite March 7, 2017 in the Hutchinson, KS and Enid, OK area. NASA.
Reno County in Kansas has completed an after action report (AAR) regarding the wildfires that occurred in March, 2017. One of the largest blazes was north of Hutchinson, which is about 40 air miles northwest of Wichita. While those fires were active, hundreds of thousands of acres were also burning around the Texas/Oklahoma panhandle/Kansas border area.
The state’s forest service is the smallest and lowest funded of any in the country – which puts people and property in danger. Consider the difference in resources and responses between Kansas and Oklahoma: –The Kansas Forest Service budget in 2016 was about $3 million, with $1 million dedicated to fire service; Oklahoma’s budget was $15 million, with $8 million for fire service. –The Kansas Forest Service has three trucks and four employees dedicated to firefighting and fire prevention; Oklahoma has 47 fire engines, 47 bulldozers and 84 firefighters.
The AAR was compiled by Deputy Fire Chief Doug Hanen, with the assistance of Emergency Management Director Adam Weishaar and Sheriff Randy Henderson. The 30-page report concluded that generally the work performed on the fires by numerous agencies was positive and commendable, but there was room for improvement.
Here are some of the highlights of the review:
There is a need for smaller fire apparatus that can get into areas not accessible by 6-by-6 military surplus engines.
A Polaris side-by-side UTV holding 75 gallons was very useful for mop up, especially in wet areas. They hope to obtain at least one more.
On days with a Red Flag Warning, they will now immediately dispatch at least three brush engines.
In order to help manage the span of control, the Hutchinson Fire Department will organize resources into Task Forces comprised of three brush engines, one water tender, and a Task Force Leader.
The firefighters in Reno County for the last two years have increasingly used backfire and burnout tactics, and more engines are carrying drip torches.
The Hutchinson Fire Department became the first fully-paid department in Kansas to have all of their firefighters red carded. This will enable them to send resources out of the state, for example, to Colorado or California.
The Kansas State Incident Management Team provided assistance for a day, but they “seemed overwhelmed by a moving event,” were “inexperienced…in essential positions”, and lacked accountability. At the end of the day the Team left. The state has since reorganized the program, placing teams under the Kansas Department of Emergency Management enabling them to respond nationwide instead of just in Kansas.
Toward the end of the fire siege a Type 2 Incident Management Team was called in. The difference between that team and the previous State Team was “night and day”. Local officials learned a lot from the Type 2 Team, especially how to re-populate areas following an evacuation and in dealing with victims following an incident.
There are opportunities for better and more timely communication and coordination with the public and the media.
The report suggests better guidelines for managing length of first responders’ shifts on wildfires and their rehabilitation in order to reduce exhaustion.
A new documentary published online last week chronicles the terror and heartbreak ranchers faced in areas of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas when wind-swept fires tore through their communities in March.
Titled “Fire in the Heartland,” the 16-minute film includes interviews with fire personnel and ranchers about the firestorm that ripped through the prairie lands. The video is the latest enterprise work to come out of the disaster — this New York Times piece also detailed some of the tragedy.
The wildfires tore through cattle country, feasting on grasses made dry by long-term drought and exacerbated by recent warm weather. Once the fires were started, strong winds whipped the flames, helping them spread more rapidly. According to Reuters, a wildfire in Texas during the beginning of March moved at speeds up to 70mph as it raced across the Texas Panhandle. By the third week of March, the fires had killed at least seven people—not to mention thousands of livestock—and burned more than 2 million acres.