Manhattan residents who had forgotten what season this is received a clear reminder Saturday when a smoky haze descended on our fair city. It’s springtime, yes, of course. But it’s also burning season.
And although the burns are important to the rebirth of the prairie, they also can be tough on the lungs. That’s led to some concern in Kansas City and other population centers, but here in the Flint Hills, most of us shrug, recognize the inconvenience as temporary and move on. And it is temporary; that cool, hazy Saturday, which might have been ideal for setting controlled burns, gave way to a windy Sunday that blew the smoke away and, for the most part, cleared the air.
There was plenty of burning over the weekend, on the Konza and other areas. Some of the controlled burns developed minds of their own when the winds picked up Saturday afternoon. Our area isn’t alone. An out-of-control grass fire northwest of Topeka burned some 1,500 acres, damaged several homes and involved multiple fire departments. A fire a couple of weeks ago on Fort Riley burned 2,500 acres.
Although luck can be a factor in keeping a burn under control, there’s no substitute for good judgment, which is particularly important when the fire hazard is high.
That judgment begins with acquiring a burn permit, which in Riley County is required. It’s free but its issuance is dependent on weather conditions. Also essential is having a plan and enough personnel and equipment to maintain control of the fire. As for residents who don’t get permits, they can be cited and fined. Control of the fire is the permit holder’s responsibility.
Even so, volunteer firefighters seem busier this time of year than any other.
While even brush fires have been permitted thus far, the folks at Riley County Emergency Management say that won’t be the case when the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan takes effect April 1 — Tuesday. Only controlled burns in excess of 20 acres will be permitted.
As the smoke management plan’s website points out, the plan is “an attempt to balance the need for prescribed fire in the Flint Hills with the need for clean air in downwind communities.”
The compromise isn’t perfect, but it does help ensure the continued productivity of the Flint Hills while minimizing inconvenience downwind.