All outdoor burning is to be avoided during a week-long burn ban issued for the unincorporated areas of Douglas County, according to a Douglas County news release. The ban will last from March 9-15.
Shannon Portillo, Chair of the Board of Douglas County Commissioners, signed the burn ban in response to several Douglas County Fire District Chiefs recommendations, according to the release. Firefighters suggested the ban in order to recover and repair their equipment after responding to multiple grass fires over the course of several days.
The most northeastern fire district of Douglas County has reported 60 grass fires in the last 60 days, said Fire Chief Mike Baxter of Consolidated Fire District No. 1 of Douglas County.
Chad Omitt, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Topeka, said Sunday and Monday were the two worst days in the last week for grass fires in the area. Douglas County was listed in the “extreme fire danger” category of the Rangeland Fire Danger Index on Monday, according to a Douglas County news release.
“I wouldn’t say [Douglas County listed in the “extreme fire danger” category] is common, it will happen a couple of times a year. It’ll happen where that category gets very high, or extreme,” Omitt said. “When we get too extreme, that’s what we call our ‘red flag warning’ conditions."
The last burn ban issued for Douglas County was in March of 2015, according to Douglas County Emergency Management. The lack of humidity during the month of March and high winds that are normal for the area contribute to these conditions, Omitt said
“This time of year, in March, a lot of the landowners are burning their pastures and things like that to try to improve the grass that comes in, and unfortunately when you get grass fires in an environment that has low humidities and high winds, it can become uncontrollable where the behavior gets really aggressive,” Omitt said.
Relative humidity levels of around 20% and winds between 20 to 30 miles per hour create perfect conditions for grass fires, according to Omitt.
"It’s not unprecedented and it does happen a couple of times a year, and it’s usually in March. It can also happen in October, it seems like we get conditions that are similar in the fall," Omitt said.
If conditions meet the guidelines of the Douglas County Outdoor Burning Resolution by March 16, then controlled burning in the area can resume.
The burn ban is issued for the unincorporated areas of Douglas County, which excludes the cities of Lawrence, Eudora, Baldwin City, and Lecompton.