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Wichita issues air quality advisory as winds carry smoke from Flint Hills prairie fires

Watch Kansas’ Flint Hills burn from the air in springtime ritual

Kansas ranchers often burn off the dead grass in their cattle pastures to encourage the growth of new grass. In March and April, the skies become thick with smoke as controlled burns light up the Kansas skies.
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Kansas ranchers often burn off the dead grass in their cattle pastures to encourage the growth of new grass. In March and April, the skies become thick with smoke as controlled burns light up the Kansas skies.

Wichita has issued an air quality advisory as east winds bring smoke from burning prairie fires in the Flint Hills to the city.

“An Air Quality Advisory is in effect for Wichita today,” city staff wrote in a tweet. “Air Quality conditions today could be unhealthy for sensitive groups. Rangeland burning coupled with winds out of the east will almost certainly bring smoke into the Wichita MSA, impacting air quality.”

Every year, the state of Kansas issues a burn ban for 16 counties through the month of April.

“The ban restricts burning trees and brush from land clearing, crop residues, construction debris, yard waste, and the use of backyard chimineas and fire pits,” the Associated Press reported. “... This ban does not include outdoor cooking devices or ceremonial fires. It also does not include burning for crop, range, pasture, wildlife or watershed management.”

The Wichita branch of the National Weather Service forecast calls for an east wind Tuesday afternoon, and city spokeswoman Elyse Mohler said that east wind is likely what’s bringing smoke into the city.

“Due to rangeland burning in the Flint Hills coupled with an easterly wind component, we predict smoke from burning will likely be transported into the Wichita region in the late afternoon creating a haze and air quality impact,” Mohler said in an email.

Wichitans with lung disease, older adults and children may experience health effects due to the smoke, Mohler said. She advised that they may want to limit prolonged exposure outdoors.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency lists much of the eastern half of Kansas as under a moderate health concern due to air pollution, the agency states that “it’s a good day to be active outside” for everyone not especially sensitive to breathing particle pollution.

The city’s advisory lasts through Tuesday. Updates, including whether the advisory is extended into Wednesday, will be provided on the city’s social media accounts.

Sedgwick County is predicted to experience a “medium” contribution to air quality from fires both Wednesday and Thursday, according to Kansas Flint Hills Smoke Management. A southeasterly wind on Wednesday may bring smoke from potential fires in the southwestern Flint Hills into Wichita. A northwesterly wind on Thursday is predicted to carry smoke from most Flint Hills counties away from the city, but potential fires in Sedgwick County may still send smoke to Wichita.

The National Weather Service has advised against outdoor burning Wednesday afternoon. The predicted south winds will have sustained speeds of 25-30 mph and gusts of 35-40 mph. A map showing areas that will have a very high fire danger includes much of south central and southeast Kansas.

“Gusty south winds will elevate the grassland fire danger into the very high category for most of south central and southeast Kansas on Wednesday afternoon,” NWS Wichita said in a tweet. “Outdoor burning is discouraged.”

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