Drought prompts state response

? Drought conditions that have contributed to a recent spate of large fires are worsening, according to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ drought-response team.

The team, which met Friday, recommended that Sebelius place most of the state under a drought warning and northeast and east-central Kansas under a drought watch.

Warning status, which is one step below a drought emergency on the state’s three-phase scale, means there is a severe drought, with crop and pasture losses likely and some stock water shortages. Watch status means moderate drought with some crop and pasture damage.

Sebelius could approve the recommendation as soon as Monday.

Precipitation forecast across the state over the weekend will be welcome, but drought will remain a concern.

“There’s not any sign at this point that we’re going to get out of this very quickly,” said Mary Knapp, state climatologist based at Kansas State University.

At least 40,000 acres have burned in unintentional rangeland fires, said Karl McNorton, chief deputy state fire marshal.

In an effort to stem the risk, 66 of the state’s 105 counties had imposed burn bans, as of Friday.

The bans worried Flint Hills ranchers, who begin burning pastures in the next three weeks to kill weeds and control woody plants such as red cedar and buck brush. They say the burning improves grazing conditions.

“Cattle gain a lot more weight on burned pasture than on unburned pasture,” said Chase County rancher Larry Pinkston, who takes care of cattle brought in to graze on the rich pasture in the Flint Hills.

Seeking to prevent out-of-control wildfires that threaten homes, outbuildings and motorists on nearby highways, a task force will begin meeting early next week to consider strategies for limited burns.