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Prairie Burns Under Scrutiny

June 17, 2014
Every spring in the Flint Hills, there are controlled burns of prairie grasslands. Depending on higher atmospheric conditions and how the wind blows in late March and early April, people down wind may encounter an increase in smoke.

During Pottawatomie County Fire Supervisor Bruce Brazzle's report to the County Commission on Monday, June 16, he discussed his participation on the Flint Hills Prescribed Burn Council.

"The EPA came in and shared their concern for where the smoke went this year and who it affected," he said.

"The majority of the smoke went to Nebraska and Iowa and almost reached Chicago," he continued. "It tripped off the Lincoln and Omaha smoke monitors and the state of Nebraska is fairly upset with the state of Kansas right now."

He told the commission it used to be ozone gas that tripped the monitors but, "but this time it was particulate matter (PM), which are the particles that are in the smoke that floats down once the smoke cools off. The particles have a big effect on asthmatic people and many others who have trouble breathing anyway."

After the meeting, Brazzle commented further.

"Back on April 6 the Nebraska Department of Health was contacting the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) demanding that we put the fires out and stop the burns," he said. "The Pottawatomie County Health Department received several calls from Nebraska as well." He explained, whenever an incident crosses the state line the federal agency governing the potential conflict may assess the situation. In this situation, the Environmental Protection Agency came to the Flint Hills Prescribed Burn Council to ask for an improvement in burn management practices due to an increase in PM affecting population centers down wind.

"This is the first year that we have actually had particulate issues and it is the first time we have ever had it up in Nebraska," Brazzle said.

Brazzle explained this spring's scenario.

"KDHE is studying all the data they have collected to try and understand why it happened this year, but so far there is no answer."

"There are no answers as to the cause, but the EPA wants the council to come up with solutions, so that it doesn't happen again," he said.

"It has to do with the amount of acreage that we burn and if we can get the people that conduct the burns to coordinate at different times and work together with their neighbors. It also helps with controlling burns, by assuring there are sufficient firefighters available.

"I don't think we can alleviate all the problems," he concluded. "But working together to find solutions here locally will benefit everyone. I don't think there is anyone out there that is trying to stop the burning, but they're wanting us to come up with the best solutions."


Tags: Pottawatomie County

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