'Red Flag' Goes Beyond 'Extreme' for Fire Danger

'Red Flag' Goes Beyond 'Extreme' for Fire Danger

New designation part of High Plains weather forecasts as dry conditions continue.

Something relatively new and different appears likely to be a frequent feature in central High Plains weather forecasts this winter.

"A 'Red Flag Warning' is a step above the 'extreme' category on the old Range Fire Danger index. And, for the first time in a number of years, Kansas appears to be primed to hear it during wintertime, too," said State Climatologist Mary Knapp.

The term emerged with the same change that put a slightly modified slogan in Smokey Bear's mouth: "Only you can prevent wildfires." The National Weather Service now reports overall U.S. wildfire conditions, rather than separating the risks for forests and grasslands.

Knapp said what warrants a Red Flag varies from area to area. In general, the criteria are a dangerous mix of wind, low relative humidity, moderate to warm temperatures and available fuel.

No matter the location, however, a Red Flag always means the same: Fire-promoting conditions have reached or will soon be at the critical level. The danger is real, and it's high. Any spark could create a devastating fire with explosive growth potential.

"Unfortunately, Kansas is leaving a dry fall and moving into our normally drier winter months," Knapp said. "Added to that, the state has a much bigger supply of natural fuels, due to beneficial rains over the last two years.

"Besides, most farmers are now leaving stubble on harvested fields to conserve soil and moisture. A number of landowners are no longer burning pastures as often as recommended; so, trashy shrubs and trees are rapidly become part of the state's burnable mix. That's dangerous in a fire-based ecology – which actually is one of the ways scientists define 'prairie.'"

She maintains Kansas drought data, forecasts and fire-weather links at www.ksre.ksu.edu/wdl.

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