This winter has been one of the driest winters we have experienced. According to the National Weather Service, from Nov. 10 through Feb. 18, we have only received 0.26 of an inch of precipitation in Great Bend. That is the driest period since 1933. In Ellis County at the agricultural research center, from November to now they have recorded a total of 0.88 of an inch of precipitation. With such dry weather, our chances of an accidental wildfire have increased greatly throughout much of Kansas. I thought I would share some information on what you can do to help reduce your risk of a wildfire around your home or farm.

The first item I want to talk about is fire safety. This past week, we were in a red flag warning, and in the extreme category for fire danger. Last year's total precipitation was above average, which contributed to above average grass production in CRP and pastures. The grass is now extremely dry, and any spark, coupled with high winds, easily can start a fire that is difficult to control. With advancement in weather technology, the National Weather Service now can detect and track fires using its weather radar systems. This allows many times for the fire recognition early and crews can respond quickly. Many local fire departments also have upgraded their radio systems, allowing for better communications between departments and firefighters. So, what can you do to help minimize your fire risk?

• Clear away pine needles, dead leaves and other dry organic material from your gutters, porches, patios or base of your house.

• Rake landscaping mulch or debris away from or under any buildings.

• Remove flammable materials such as scrap wood and firewood from underneath the house, decks and porches.

• Trim back shrubs and trees that come closer than 5 feet to your house or buildings.

• Eliminate ladder fuels by pruning tree branches around property to within at least 6 feet of ground.

• Remove anything within 30 feet of a building that can burn such as woodpiles, tall landscape grasses, weeds and spare lumber.

• Mow the lawn regularly to keep grasses shorter than 4 inches around homes and buildings.

• Keep your landscape hydrated and maintained, and if your lawn or shrubs are brown or dry, trim and cut it down to reduce fire intensity.

• Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh and enclose eaves using 1/8 mesh metal screening to prevent sparks and ember entry.

For more information of how to help prepare for fires, visit www.firemarshal.ks.gov.

If you have not watered your landscape yet, now is definitely the time to begin. Shrubs and deciduous trees are beginning to break dormancy or soon will, and cool season plants are growing. A good deep soaking on all of your perennial plants, according to their needs, is important to give them a good start for your landscaping. Along with helping mitigate fire damage, proper watering techniques will help your landscape plants have a good start that will help them all growing season long. For tips and information on properly watering your lawn, trees and landscape plants, contact us at K-State Research and Extension and we would be happy to help you find the information you need.

Alicia Boor is an agriculture and natural resources agent in the Cottonwood District (which includes Barton and Ellis counties) for K-State Research and Extension.

aboor@ksu.edu