Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2001

Kansas ranks high for wildfires

October 11, 2001


Kansas has tens of thousands of acres of pasture and prairie-grass land.

Park rangers and farmers do controlled burns to help manage the grass and allow native species to germinate. But some fires get out of control or are unwanted from the start.

On average, wildfires consume 190,638 acres in the state per year, according to the Kansas Forest Service.

In fact, Kansas ranks second, behind California, among the 17 western states for the greatest number of wildfires each year. Between 1994 and 1998, California had 6,621 fires; while Kansas averaged 4,384 fires per year.

"I don't think a lot of people know or even realize that," said Casey McCoy, rural fire coordinator for Kansas Forest Service. "California just makes the news a lot more often."

This is National Fire Safety Week, and local and state fire officials are spreading the word about preventing wildfires.

Douglas County's nine townships are more at risk for wildfires than about any other type of blaze.

Kanwaka Township Fire Chief Chris Lesser said half of the department's calls usually are for wildfires.

"The big thing to be concerned about is weather conditions because they affect wildfires," he said. "Days with low humidity and high winds are days you should not burn."

Lesser, a volunteer since 1989, said the last major rangeland fire in the Kanwaka Township occurred Valentine's Day in 1993 near Clinton Lake.

"I think we had all the county departments assisting us," he said. "Some of those just really stand out in your mind."

Lesser said people should call county dispatchers to let them know about any controlled burn in advance to prevent the fire department from being called out unnecessarily. He also offered some advice.

"Be extra careful," he said. "Make sure you have enough people on hand to help control the fire. We can't stress that enough."

In addition, McCoy said people can always ask any firefighter for advice.

"If you want to talk to someone who knows about fire behavior, firefighters are the ones who know best," he said.

-- Staff writer Joy Ludwig can be reached at 832-7144.

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