DHHS Activates Smoke Advisory System for Flint Hills Burns

News Release
For Immediate Release: 3/26/2019

Leah Bucco-White, Department of Health and Human Services, (402) 471-9356 leah.bucco-white@nebraska.gov
Brian McManus, Department of Environmental Quality, (402) 471-4223 Brian.mcmanus@nebraska.gov


Lincoln – The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reminds Nebraskans that it's Flint Hills burning season in Kansas and Oklahoma. Smoke from these fires can negatively impact the air quality of downwind areas including Nebraska.

DHHS announced the development of a public smoke advisory system for the Flint Hills burns last year and will activate the system again this year.  Smoke advisories will be issued when conditions make it likely that the smoke from the burns could affect air quality in parts of Nebraska.

These advisories are developed in conjunction with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, the Douglas County Health Department, and information provided by the state of Kansas.

Large areas of Flint Hills rangeland in Kansas and Oklahoma are burned during the spring to provide better forage for cattle, help preserve the tallgrass prairie and control invasive plant species. Prescribed burning minimizes risk of wildfires and is effective in managing rangeland resources.

Weather conditions can affect the timing of the prescribed burns and have the potential to impact Nebraska's air quality. During a typical year, about 2.4 million acres are burned in the Flint Hills region. In 2018, due to drought conditions, only 1.5 million acres were burned.  This could mean that there will be more burning and higher concentrations of burning in the upcoming four to six weeks, depending on weather conditions.

If state and local agencies determine that smoke is likely to impact the air quality in Nebraska, DHHS and DEQ will issue a joint advisory to share the information with the public. Advisories will be based on data provided by the state of Kansas, smoke plume modeling, and from air quality monitors located in Beatrice, Bellevue, Lincoln, and Omaha.  Advisories will be posted on the DEQ website at http://deq.ne.gov/NDEQProg.nsf/OnWeb/AirSA and the DHHS website at http://dhhs.ne.gov/pages/news-releases.aspx as well as on DHHS Facebook and Twitter.

In addition to the advisories from DHHS and DEQ, the Lincoln-Lancaster Health Department and the Douglas County Health Department may also issue information to advise citizens of air quality impacts in their jurisdictions.

Smoke from prescribed burns can cause health problems, including burning eyes, runny nose, coughing and illnesses such as bronchitis. Individuals with respiratory issues, such as asthma and COPD, pre-existing heart or lung diseases, children and the elderly may experience worse symptoms.

Here's how Nebraskans can protect their health on days when smoke is present in their communities:

  • Keep doors and windows closed and run air conditioners with HEPA filters.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Limit or avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.
  • People with respiratory or heart related illnesses should remain indoors.
  • Contact your doctor if you have symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath or severe fatigue.
  • Refer to the latest smoke advisory for additional information.

For current conditions of Nebraska's air quality and tomorrow's forecast, visit:  https://www.airnow.gov/.

For more information on smoke awareness, visit DEQ's website at http://deq.ne.gov/NDEQProg.nsf/OnWeb/AirSA.

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