February 28, 2014

KDHE Office of Communications, 785-296-0461

Health Advisory, Safety Tips Issued During Flint Hills Burning Season

Smoke Modeling Tool Offered Earlier This Year

TOPEKA, Kan. – The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reminds Kansans that mid-March through the end of April is the time when large areas of the state’s Flint Hills rangeland are burned, a practice that can have an impact on air quality. These burns are conducted to provide better forage for cattle and to help control invasive species such as Eastern Red Cedar and Sumac. Additionally, well planned and managed periodic burns can minimize the risk of wildfires and are an inexpensive method for managing rangeland.

KDHE will allow access to the Kansas smoke modeling tool on March 1 this year because drought conditions have slightly improved in many areas of the state and there is the likelihood of increased burning compared with the previous two seasons.

With the last two burn seasons, the modeling tool wasn’t made available until mid-March as the drought has limited the number of acres in the Flint Hills that have been burned. The ten-year average of acres burned in Kansas is approximately 2.5 million, with 706,016 and 217,377 acres burned in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

For burns to be conducted safely and effectively, weather and rangeland conditions must be right. In years when these conditions are right, many landowners conduct burns at the same time. If these burns take place when meteorological conditions do not disperse the smoke, air pollutants from the burns can affect persons in the Flint Hills and can be carried long distances to more populated areas.

“We encourage ranchers and land managers to take advantage of this resource to spread out their burns more effectively and mitigate potential air quality impacts,” said Douglas Watson, meteorologist, KDHE, Bureau of Air.

One outcome of prescribed burning is the release of a large amount of particulate matter (PM) and substances that can form ozone in the air during a relatively short time period. The fine particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, coughing and illnesses such as bronchitis. Persons with asthma may experience aggravated symptoms. Individuals with pre-existing heart or lung diseases, children and the elderly are most likely to be affected; however, even healthy individuals may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of PM.

Steps you can take to protect your health on days when smoke is impacting your community include:

For more information about the burning in the Flint Hills, the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan, April burn restrictions associated with the plan and access to the smoke modeling tool, please visit