By PAT MELGARES
K-State Research and Extension news service
A Kansas Forest Service official is encouraging homeowners to fireproof their homes in advance of potential wildfires in the state this year.
Eric Ward, the assistant fire manager for the state’s forest service, said actions taken ahead of time can be the difference between saving or losing a home and surrounding structures.
“During a major fire, one of the challenges is that there are not enough fire trucks for every home,” Ward said. “It’s just a given that if there’s a major fire coming, there will not be a fire truck at your house. There just aren’t enough in any community.”
Ward said the Kansas Forest Service has a Wildfire Risk Assessment portal available online for free. The tool allows homeowners to enter their home address – or any other specific area they want to protect – and receive an on-screen assessment of the fire risk in that area.
City officials – public safety professionals, emergency managers and community planners among them – can use the Wildfire Risk Assessment tool to produce a multi-page report that assesses fire danger for a wider area, such as an entire community.
Regardless of one’s risk, Ward said there are many steps that homeowners can take to safeguard their property and the lives of their family, including:
• Move firewood away from the side of the house.
• Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles.
• Replace or repair loose or missing shingles on the roof.
• Prune tree branches so they are at least 10 feet from the home’s roof.
• Keep lawns, native grasses and wildflowers at a height of less than four inches.
• Keep trailers, recreational vehicles, storage sheds and other combustible structures more than 30 feet away from the home.
A more detailed list of homeowner safeguards is available in the Kansas Forest Service publication, Ready, Set, Go! My Personal Wildland Fire Action Plan (https://www.kansasforests.org/fire_management/2023%20Ready%20Set%20Go.pdf).
Chip Redmond, a K-State meteorologist and director of a network of 86 weather stations known as the Kansas Mesonet, said all landowners can help reduce the potential of wildfires by paying attention to forecasts available online via a fire danger tool.
“It’s called the Kansas Fire Danger Forecast, and what we’ve done is take all the real-time data we get from our 86 weather stations to build a historical record,” Redmond said. “That information goes to the U.S. Forest Service’s wildfire information management system, which then calculates a fire danger rating through a burning index, which looks at the flammability, wind and humidity component to fuels (such as grasses) in a given area.”
The forecast, Redmond adds, is typically reported for the next seven days.
“You want to look at fire concerns in the future,” he said. “The fire danger of the day you’re going to burn may be conducive for that day…but you also need to check those burns in the days after. The forecasts will help you understand whether you need to check a little more often because maybe the winds are going to pick up.”
Often, Redmond said, a fire could re-ignite four or five days after the original burn.
Kansas Wildfire Awareness Week is Feb. 12-16. More information on safeguarding property from wildfire is available online from the
Kansas Forest Service (https://www.kansasforests.org/)
, and from
local extension offices in Kansas (https://www.ksre.k-state.edu/about/statewide-locations/)