Wildfires overlooked Kansas hazard
Name the top-five natural hazards Kansans face every year. You can probably come up with tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, flooding and sever winter storms. That's four, but do you know fifth hazard on the list? It's wildfire.
To make Kansas citizens more aware of the dangers of wildfire, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius proclaimed March 26-30 as Kansas Wildfire Prevention Week. The partners promoting the week-long event are the Kansas Forest Service, Office of the Kansas State Fire Marshall, Kansas Division of Emergency Management, Kansas Citizen Corps, Hutchinson Community College Fire Science program, Kansas State University Research and Extension, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
In 2006, alone, wildfires swept across an estimated 150,000 acres in the state. That's a total of more than 234 square miles. The Kansas Forest Service estimates it spent nearly $500,000 to battle Kansas wildfires in 2006. The Kansas Fire Marshal's Office is still working on damage estimates for 2006, but in 2005, wildfires took the lives of one civilian and two firefighters. The property value that burned equaled $693,000.
Ensuring wildfires don't get started isn't just a concern for rural areas. It's a critical, personal responsibility for every Kansan, according to Bill Chornyak, deputy director, Kansas Division of Emergency Management.
"Under the right conditions, the simple toss of a cigarette out of a car window could lead to a significant fire, affecting hundreds of acres and damaging numerous businesses or homes," Chornyak said. "By focusing on what each of us can do to prevent wildfires, we can reduce the need for local, state and possibly federal emergency response - which can result in thousands of dollars in expenses to government and, therefore, to taxpayers each year."
According to the National Weather Service office in Wichita, one 2006 wildfire east of Towanda, Kan., produced enough smoke to cause a pileup on the Kansas Turnpike. Flames charred outbuildings, damaged homes, set three oil wells on fire, destroyed almost 11,000 acres of pasture and threatened an elementary school. Thirty-four state, county and city agencies were required to extinguish the blaze.
About 75 percent of Kansas wildfires start during spring due to dry weather conditions.
USDA's National Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters view human carelessness as the major cause of the nation's wildfires today. This includes such dangerous activities as:
- Using a lantern, candle or propane stove in a tent;
- Burning spark-producing trash or logs;
- Setting off fireworks around anything that can burn;
- Not ensuring that set fires are totally out -- including campfires and used cigarettes; and
- Parking or driving on dry grass with a vehicle that doesn't have a spark arrester.