Information Related to Kansas Flint Hills Controlled Burns
and Other Events that Can Impact Nebraska’s Air Quality
This web page was designed to keep the public informed about any potential smoke issues that could impact air quality in Nebraska. The primary purpose of the page is to provide updates annually from March to mid-April, when large controlled burns in the Flint Hills area of Kansas and Oklahoma occurs and can potentially impact air quality in surrounding states. This page will also be updated if there are other regional events that could affect air quality in populated areas of Nebraska, such as uncontrolled wildfires.
The page provides:
- updates on controlled burns from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE);
- links for more Flint Hills information;
- a link to federal site that provide Nebraska’s air current conditions and forecast;
- background regarding controlled burning;
- information relating to practical steps that can be taken to avoid impacts when air quality is affected by smoke
Updates on Controlled Burns
As part of its Smoke Management Plan, the State of Kansas evaluates how the impact of burning could affect populated areas, including in Nebraska. Typically, optimal burn conditions occur from March until mid-April. During the burn season, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment provides regular updated forecasts. Click here to view the updates from Kansas.
More Information About Flint Hills
For more information about burning in the Flint Hills, the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan, and access to their smoke modeling tool, visit:
To view smoke impact forecasts, including for southeast Nebraska, visit:
Check Nebraska’s Air Forecast
For current conditions of Nebraska’s Air Quality and tomorrow’s forecast, go to NDEQ’s link to federal AirNow web site:
AirNow – Conditions and Forecast*
Why Do Controlled Burns Occur Every Spring?
As KDHE explains in their February 21, 2017 press release,* large areas of the Flint Hills rangeland are burned to help preserve the tallgrass prairie, control invasive species such as Eastern Redcedar and sumac, and provide better forage for cattle. Prescribed burning minimizes risk of wildfires and is effective in managing rangeland resources.
While not as widespread as in the Flint Hills region, controlled burns also occur in Nebraska and may become more prevalent as the state examines methods for preventing woody invasive species from overtaking grasslands in our state. The University of Nebraska Extension publication, “Act Now or Pay Later – Evaluating the Cost of Reactive Versus Proactive Eastern Redcedar Management,” (see attachment below) provides more detailed explanation of the effects that the invasive Eastern Redcedar could have on the prairies of the Great Plains, potential impacts to livestock capacity, and methods of prevention. A related Extension publication below, “Eastern Redcedar Invasion Threatens Funding for Nebraska’s Public Schools,” explains how invasive species could pose a threat to some funding of Nebraska’s public education system.
Steps to Consider When Air is Impacted by Smoke
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of adverse reactions to smoke can include:
- A scratchy throat
- Irritated sinuses
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Stinging eyes
- A runny nose
People with congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema or asthma are at higher risk of having health problems. Older adults are more likely to be affected because of possible health issues as well as young children who may be more affected because their airways are still developing.
Health officials recommend the following steps to protect your health on days when smoke is present:
If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your doctor's advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
- Limit or avoid strenuous outdoor activity.
- People with respiratory or heart-related illnesses should remain indoors.
- Stay indoors if possible and keep windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and if it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
- Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
* This document contains links to non-NDEQ websites; these links will open in a new tab or window.