Landowners typically burn their fields and brush piles – commonly referred to as prescribed burning - in the spring. The practice is used to restore native grasslands, recycle nutrients, control woody plants and weeds, and improve certain wildlife habitat.
Prescribed burning is regulated by Kansas Administrative Regulations (KAR 28-19-645 through 28-19-648) and Douglas County Home Rule Resolution 17-3-1. These legal documents provide the framework for everyone to follow and help ensure prescribed burning is done safely and with little to no impact on the surrounding area. These regulations also can be found on Douglas County Emergency Management's Open Burning Regulations and Safety webpage.
"Nearly 95 percent of all wildfires result from the activity of people and, therefore, a significant number could be prevented through taking proper actions towards fire safety." said Fire Chief Mike Baxter, of Douglas County Consolidated Fire District No. 1.
In 2021, Kansas fire departments responded to close to 5,000 vegetation-related fires that caused two fatalities, injured 20 people, burned over 185,000 acres and damaged more than 40 buildings, according to the Kansas Fire Marshall. Over 900 of these fires required counties to seek mutual-aid assistance to bring them under control. The fires also caused over $4 million in damages to property owners.
In 2022, Consolidated Fire District No. 1 responded to 308 grass fires in Douglas County.
Here’s what you need to know:
Understand that open burning is not authorized under certain forecasted conditions
- Rangeland Fire Danger Index is High and forecasted sustained winds greater than 15mph.
- Rangeland Fire Danger Index is Low or Moderate and forecasted sustained winds greater than 20mph
- Local conditions of dryness
- Resource limitations of local Fire Departments
Develop a written prescribed burn plan
- Know how many people and equipment you will need
- Talk with your neighbors and burn together
- Determine if site and moisture conditions are appropriate
- If conditions are not favorable, postpone the burn until conditions improve.
Prepare the site
- Create adequate fire breaks. These can be mowed, disced lines, or natural fire breaks.
- Size of fire breaks will vary dependent on fuel type and moisture. In general, if only grass is present in proposed burn area, the fire breaks need to be a minimum of 10 times the vegetation height.
Observe the weather
- Know weather conditions on the day of the burn and 2 to 3 days following.
- Daily fire weather can be found on the National Weather Service site.
- Ideal conditions for prescribed burning are wind speeds between 8 mph and 13 mph and humidity greater than 30 percent.
- If a storm front with shifting winds is approaching, consider delaying the burn due to potential rekindling after the burn.
Notification of the prescribed burn
- Call 785-832-5394 prior to igniting any burns, this is a requirement by the state and county regulations.
- The county burn line is updated every morning by 8 a.m. and will notify you if burning is authorized for the day.
- If burning is authorized, you must log your name, contact phone number, location of burn, and material being burned.
Conducting the burn
- Continuous monitoring of changing weather conditions
- Stay with the burn until it is completely extinguished
- Maintain adequate help and resources for the entire operation
- Have your phone close to you and be prepared to answer if someone calls. Dispatch may try to contact individuals conducting prescribed burns to ensure everything is OK
Completing the burn
- Secure the area and patrol the burned edge several times after the burn is completed
- Extinguish any burning material within 100 feet of burned edge
- If standing trees are burning near the burned edge, cut them down
- Check and monitor the burn area for the next 2 to 3 days ensuring nothing re-kindles
- Contact 911 if you encounter any problems during your prescribed burn. Early notification will allow fire department resources to get there sooner to mitigate any problems.
“I would encourage everyone to read the regulations before conducting any prescribed burning this season,” Baxter said. If you have questions, please contact the fire department by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 785-843-2226.