13-acre hazard reduction fire is set at Kansas City park

Hazard reduction burns are controlled fires that are set intentionally
Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 4:58 PM CST
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Controlled burns are an important tool for maintaining the health and safety of a forest.

They can also be rejuvenating, returning nutrients to the soil via the ashes of vegetation that could otherwise take years to decompose.

The Kansas City Parks & Recreation teamed up with Kansas City Wildlands to help protect the environment on Tuesday.

“It’s a good day for us,” said Environmental Manager Stephen Van Rhein with Kansas City Parks & Recreation. “The weather has cooperated. We’re able to do a prescribed or controlled burn.”

Hazard reduction burns are fires set intentionally for forest management purposes, farming, prairie restoration, or greenhouse gas reduction.

“We have a very high-quality remnant prairie,” Van Rhein said. “These are plants that have been growing generation after generation here on this site for the last 15,000 years. It’s a very special spot. Burning keeps the prairie healthy.”

Once the ignition started at Jerry Smith Park, it took about two hours to burn the 13 acres.

“After the site is burned, it will be amazing how quickly it regenerates,” said Kansas City Wildlands program manager Linda Lehrbaum. “A lot of the species of plants need this fire and they will come back gangbusters, including a lot of the rare ones. We will collect seed. If it’s an area that needs more seeds, we’ve got the seed collected for it that’s from a remnant prairie locally and we’ll re-seed it over the winter. The exciting part about a remnant is that its original seed bank is still there and the fire will help it express itself.”

The burns are usually conducted during cooler months to minimize fuel buildup. It also helps decrease the likelihood of serious, hotter fires.

“We do this during this time of year for various reasons,” added Van Rhein. “Number one, all the plants are dormant so we’re not killing live plants. It’s also because you can get a cleaner burn.”

While controlled burns can be impressive sights to see, wildlife officials don’t recommend it for people with respiratory issues.