Relentless wind prompts burn bans


NESS CITY -- Red flag warnings were sent aloft today for much of the western third of Kansas, brought out by a fire danger forecast driven by the seemingly relentless strong winds.

Ness County commissioners have joined the rising chorus of issuing burn bans, primarily on the strength of the Kansas winds buffeting the area in recent weeks.

Commissioners in Norton and Rooks counties also have issued burn bans.

Just last week, a massive grass fire swept through part of Graham County, pushed along by strong winds. That fire burned an area 3 miles wide and 7 miles long.

"Overall, rains haven't been terrible," said Dale Staab, emergency management director for Ness County.

Instead, it's the winds that have been the culprit, drying everything out and increasing the risk of a fire spreading if one gets started.

The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for Russell County west to the Colorado line, stretching from Oklahoma to Nebraska. Ellis County is included in the red flag warning.

"Unseasonably warm and dry weather will occur over western Kansas through the next few days," according to the NWS forecast accompanying the fire warnings.

With temperatures today expected to climb into the 80s, humidity levels should fall as well -- to less than 15 percent.

"A surface low pressure trough over eastern Colorado will push out into western Kansas today," this morning's NWS fire danger report stated. "Drier air will be moving into western Kansas behind the trough. Winds will become gusty from the southwest by this afternoon.

"This will create conditions favorable for large wildfire growth."

Conditions will improve Wednesday, but only slightly. The winds should be weaker, but "there will still be a heightened threat for wildfires."

"The problem is the way these winds have been going," Staab said of the reasoning behind the burn ban issued by commissioners. "If anything gets started, there's nothing you can do about it."

What's needed is a good soaking rain, he said.

"It would take some substantial rains to get us out of it," Staab said of the ban. "I would guess we'd need a week's worth of rain. If it rains hard, it will go to the ponds. If it rains softer, everything will soak in."

Either way, the weeds and grass will remain dry.

Staab is hoping, however, residents will be in good shape to forego burning, as some people took advantage of conditions after heavy snows this winter to burn trash or fields.