Kansas is woefully ill-prepared to fight wildfires and needs to significantly increase its resources.
In fact, the state’s forest service is the smallest and lowest funded of any in the country – which puts people and property in danger.
Local volunteer firefighters bravely battled those blazes, saving as many houses and as much ranch land as possible. But they were overwhelmed – and received little or no help from the state until most of the damage was done.
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Consider the difference in resources and responses between Kansas and Oklahoma:
▪ The Kansas Forest Service budget in 2016 was about $3 million, with $1 million dedicated to fire service; Oklahoma’s budget was $15 million, with $8 million for fire service.
▪ The Kansas Forest Service has three trucks and four employees dedicated to firefighting and fire prevention; Oklahoma has 47 fire engines, 47 bulldozers and 84 firefighters.
▪ On March 6, when the wildfire started, Oklahoma had a plane in the air by 3 p.m. to help firefighters. It was two more days before Kansas could get a rented plane to help in Clark County, after most of the county had burned.
The risk of wildfires may have been low enough in the past that Kansas could get by with few resources. That’s no longer the case.
The Legislature finally approved a bill this week that would allow Kansas to coordinate firefighting efforts with Oklahoma. But more needs to be done.
After two straight years of massive fires – and predictions by scientists of more and bigger fires in the future – the state must respond.