In recent years, many Kansans have witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of wildland fires that burned thousands of acres in multiple counties, stretching the manpower and resources of many local volunteer fire departments.
To highlight the need for vigilance for wildland fires, Gov. Laura Kelly signed a proclamation marking the week of Feb. 15-19 as Wildfire Awareness Week.
"When conditions are dry and the Kansas prairie winds sweep across the state, we all need to be keenly aware of the danger of wildland fires," Kelly said. "Most wildland fires result from human activity. It only takes a spark from an unattended barbecue or campfire, or a carelessly tossed cigarette to touch off a fire that endangers lives, burns thousands of acres of farmland, and destroys homes and other property."
Last year, Kansas fire departments responded to more than 4,000 vegetation-related fires that injured 16 people, burned over 145,000 acres and damaged more than 30 buildings. Nearly 900 of these fires required counties to seek mutual assistance to bring them under control.
The Kansas Division of Emergency Management, the State Fire Marshal's Office and the Kansas Forest Service urge everyone to use extreme caution whenever doing any burning.
"It's advisable to check with your local fire department or emergency manager before doing any outdoor burning," Maj. Gen. David Weishaar, the adjutant general and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, said. "The state has established guidelines to help control outside burning and following them can help us all prevent many wildland fires."
"As all Kansans understand, weather can change in an instant," Doug Jorgensen, State Fire Marshal, said. "Weather conditions greatly impact wildfires and their spread. Before starting any outdoor burn, please make sure to check for any red-flag warnings and the weather at least 24-48 hours out."
In Kansas, 84 percent of firefighters belong to volunteer fire departments.
"Our volunteer firefighters do heroic work whenever they respond to a fire of any kind," Weishaar said. "Every wildland fire we can prevent is one less time they have to put themselves at risk to keep us safe."