Do you ever wonder where all of that smoke in the distance is coming from? Once a year in the spring, a phenomena occurs right here in Kansas that can be man-made or caused by lightning. This awe inspiring experience is the burning of the tallgrass prairie. The Flint Hills are approximately 82,000 square miles of unplowed tallgrass prairie that reach from eastern Kansas to northcentral Oklahoma. With burning season in full swing in April, it’s a common sight around Manhattan, KS. Each spring farmers and ranchers burn their pastures to get rid of the dead grass, invasive plants, and unwanted trees. The grasses and native perennials that grow on the prairie are unharmed by this burn because their roots are deep under the ground and they are dormant at the time of the burn. This cleans up of old, dead materials, promotes new growth, and allows the livestock easier access to the high quality grass that they will need to survive the summer on the prairie. The burning of the prairie is well documented by photographers because it is such a beautiful sight to behold!
My family owns a pasture in the Flint Hills so I am fortunate enough to get to take part in the annual burning experience. A few years ago my aunt built a house on the edge of the pasture. This year on one windy evening, another rancher’s fire flared back up and got out of control. The fire crossed into our pasture and was heading straight towards her house. Several local fire departments came out and tried to get it under control before too much damage was done. Since the fire was so large and moving very quickly they decided that the best option would be to start a back burn. A back burn is where another fire is purposely started and burns in the direction of the original fire so that when the fire gets to the already burned area it doesn’t have anywhere else to go. After a lot of hard work from the dedicated firefighters the fire was put out. We all have to realize that fires can get out of control and become extremely dangerous. But the ranchers and firefighters that deal with this every year have enough experience to keep people and property safe.