TOPEKA – The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is issuing an air quality advisory for the Flint Hill region, through Manhattan toward Nebraska.
KDHE activated the Kansas smoke modeling tool on March 1, prior to widespread burning in the Flint Hills. The computer models use fire data and current weather conditions to predict the potential contribution of smoke to downwind air quality problems.
Modeling has predicted conditions will worsen because of existing smoke combined with weather inversion patterns starting at 10 p.m. – 10 a.m. with a brief reprieve possible between noon and 5 p.m. and may continue for several days. The advisory took effect on April 7 for central and north-central counties in Kansas due to smoke from the Flint Hill seasonal burning between Topeka, Manhattan, and Salina, Kansas. When human health impacts are reduced, KDHE will rescind the advisory.
KDHE reminds Kansans that March and April are when large areas of the state’s rangelands are burned, especially within the Flint Hills. These burns help preserve the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, control invasive species, reduce woody encroachment from species such as Eastern Red Cedar, and provide better forage for cattle. Prescribed burning also reduces the risk of wildfires and effectively manages rangeland resources. Smoke from the burns can influence the air quality of downwind areas.
Smoke management techniques are vital to reduce air quality and health impacts for the most vulnerable individuals, including those with respiratory issues, pre-existing heart or lung diseases, children, and the elderly.
“Because air quality levels can change quickly, we are asking people to remain vigilant,” Doug Watson, meteorologist, said. “Prescribed burns release large amounts of particulate matter and other pollutants that can form ozone. Particulate matter and ozone can cause health problems, even in healthy individuals.”
Common health problems include burning eyes, runny nose, coughing, and illnesses such as bronchitis.
If individuals live or have activities near these areas, they can take these steps to protect themselves when smoke is present:
- Healthy people should limit or avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.
- More vulnerable people should remain indoors.
- Help keep indoor air clean by closing doors and windows and running air conditioners with air filters.
- Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.
- Contact their doctor for symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or severe fatigue.
For more information about the burning in the Flint Hills, the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan, April burn restrictions, and the smoke modeling tool, please visit http://ksfire.org.