One Year After Record Wildfire, Kansas Braces For Another Round
One year and nearly a half million torched acres after the Starbuck wildfire, strong winds blow across a parched Kansas landscape.
In some ways, last year’s experience showed how man-made systems fell short of handling natural disaster.
As March roars in with another dangerous fire season, lessons from 2017 will be tested, and Kansas could learn whether it’s better prepared now.
The National Weather Service says Kansas is at a critical risk for wildfires this week. Strong winds and dry air make a bad situation in southwestern Kansas worse. Officials worry that any new fire in the next few days might prove uncontrollable.
In the meantime, the Kansas Forest Service and the Kansas Division of Emergency Management have been evaluating their performance -- and planning for a possible repeat.
“I feel better prepared this year than going into last year,” said Rodney Redinger, fire training and operation specialist with the Kansas Forest Service.
For starters, officials say they now better coordinate and communicate between the various agencies involved.
“You know, there’s no reason in the Kansas Forest Service making 25 phone calls and the Division of Emergency Management making 25 phone calls to the same departments,” Redinger said.
Still, Redinger said, more money to fight the increasing problem of wildfires would make the most difference. Especially as climate change begins to increase the state’s risk of wildfire.
“I don’t want to say that it’s going to become the new norm, but at least for the foreseeable future the trend is that way,” he said.
Devan Tucking of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management said the state is also working more on community outreach.
“We want people to keep in mind, you know, clear within 30 feet of your house,” she said. “Clean out your gutters. Do what you can so that if a fire does start there’s a better chance that that home won’t be compromised.”
The National Interagency Fire Center predicts wildfire risk will remain above normal for much of Kansas through May.
Last year's Starbuck fire, which started in northern Oklahoma, burned large parts of Clark, Comanche and Meade counties along the Kansas-Oklahoma border.
Brian Grimmett is an energy and environment reporter for KMUW’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett.
Coverage of energy and the environment is made possible in part by ITC Great Plains and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.