Extreme wildfires in southern and western Kansas during 2016 and 2017 pointed to the inadequacy in the state’s plan to fight large fires.
A legislative audit released this week confirmed what we already knew, but with some numbers that should have rural Kansans fearing another wildfire.
The Kansas Forest Service budget of $370,000 for fire fighting is about 2.5 percent of Oklahoma’s $15 million budget. Kansas’ $4.50 per square mile for wildfire supression lags far behind Oklahoma’s $87.19 and Texas’ $144.83. Kansas doesn’t have enough funding to operate its four fire engines.
More than funding, manpower and coordination efforts are failing Kansas landowners. An Oklahoma fire official has said that doubling Kansas’ five full-time forest service employees would make a big difference by itself.
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The state fire marshal’s office doesn’t have money to fight wildfires, and the forest service has only its limited amount. That puts pressure on local fire departments that depend on federal grant funding that’s not always available. Most of those departments are operated by volunteers.
The Legislature has to take the lead in coming up with a comprehensive plan to fight wildfires. The audit suggests lawmakers designate a single agency to take the lead and coordinate between the state and local levels.