Mid-March through the end of April is the time of the year when large areas of Kansas’ Flint Hills rangeland are burned. These burns are conducted to provide better forage for cattle, and to help control invasive species such as Eastern Red Cedar and Sumac. Well planned and managed periodic burns can minimize fire safety danger and are an inexpensive tool for managing rangeland.
For burns to be conducted safely and effectively, weather and rangeland conditions must be right. In years when these conditions are rare, 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.
If you are healthy, you’re usually not at a major risk from short-term exposures to smoke. Still, it’s a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it. Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The burns also result in ozone formation when some of the gases combine in a chemical reaction in the atmosphere. The fine particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles and ozone also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases – and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions.
Older adults and children are at highest risk for health problems especially those with underlying health conditions. Children’s respiratory systems are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, therefore children have a greater exposure. While we cannot eliminate exposure to smoke during the burning season, there are ways to reduce it and to reduce related health impacts. It is important for everyone to limit their exposure to smoke, especially if you fall into one of the high-risk categories. Here are some steps you can take to protect your health on days when smoke is impacting your community:
- 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 ‘recirculate’ setting.
- Keep airways moist 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 the burning in the Flint Hills, the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan and the April burn restrictions associated with the plan, please visit www.ksfire.org for more information.