• Last modified 111 days ago (April 4, 2024)


Burning season doesn't need to be sick season

Staff writer

Rancher Chuck McLinden, who does prescribed burning for himself and others, said people should understand that the Flint Hills must be burned regularly to manage the land.

“You can’t do it mechanically because that’s not practical, and you can’t do it with chemicals because that’s too expensive,” he said. “And there’s something about this bluestem grass that has a reaction to fire that improves the health of the prairie. Fire is the only thing that brings it about.”

Complaints about smoke caused by prescribed burning have come from Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma and from urban areas such as Kansas City and Wichita.

“I’ve got a sister who lives in Olathe who says she knows when we start,” he said.

Burners use tools to predict which direction smoke will be carried by winds, and how heavily winds are predicted to blow while the land is burned, McLinden said.

Computer models use fire data and current weather conditions to predict the spread of smoke and air quality to downwind areas.

Managing smoke is hard when thousands of acres are burning on the same day, McLinden said.

Although burning of the Flint Hills is in full swing, there are ways people can protect themselves from suffering ill-effects from smoke in the environment.

According to Kansas Department of Health, prescribed burns release large amounts of particulate matter and other pollutants that can form ground-level ozone.

KDHE activated a smoke modeling tool early in March to help prescribed burners minimize how many people are affected by smoke.

Particulate matter and ozone can cause health problems even in healthy individuals. Common health problems include burning eyes, runny nose, coughing and illnesses such as bronchitis.

People with respiratory conditions, cardiovascular diseases, children, and the elderly are more vulnerable to experience symptoms.

To avoid problems, KDHE suggests:

  • Healthy people should limit or avoid strenuous outdoor exercise when smoke is present.
  • Vulnerable people should remain indoors.
  • Close doors and windows to keep indoor air clean and run air conditioners with filters.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Pay attention to symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, and severe fatigue. Anyone experiencing those symptoms should contact a physician.

Last modified April 4, 2024