Health advisory, safety tips issued during Flint Hills burning season

TOPEKA, Kan. – The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is reminding Kansans that early 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.

As with the previous burn season, KDHE began the Kansas smoke modeling tool on March 1 this year because of the likelihood that extensive burning will take place across the Flint Hills. The 10-year average of acres burned in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma is approximately 2.3 million, with 1.9 million acres burned in 2015.

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 smoke modeling resource to spread out their burns more effectively and mitigate potential air quality impacts,” said Douglas Watson, a meteorologist with KDHE’s Bureau of Air.

One outcome of prescribed burning is the release of a large amount of particulate matter 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 particulate matter and ozone.

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

  • Healthy people should curtail or avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.
  • People with heart or breathing related illnesses should remain indoors.
  • Help keep indoor air clean by closing doors and windows and running the air conditioner on the recirculation setting.
  • Keep airways hydrated by drinking lots of water.
  • Contact your doctor if you have symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath or severe fatigue.

For more information about 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, visit

Information and photo thanks to Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

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