© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City’s wildfire risk is increasing due to climate change and urban sprawl

Mark Penner, of the Kansas Forest Service, helps carry out a controlled fire on property owned by the University of Kansas in November. Prescribed burns help keep habitat healthy and make wildfires less dangerous.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service
As the Midwest's risk of wildfire increases, the Kansas Forest Service continues to facilitate prescribed burns, which help keep habitat healthy and make wildfires less dangerous.

Kansas grasslands provide a unique wildfire risk that’s heightened by increasingly warmer temperatures in all seasons. A rainy, overcast day can pivot to prime conditions for an active fire spread within 24 hours.

At least 5,000 wildfires are reported in Kansas every year, placing the Sunflower State in the nation's top five for the frequency of wildfire incidents. Around 85% of wildfires are caused by humans. That’s why the Kansas Forest Service is asking the public to consult the Fire Danger Forecast tool.

State fire management officer Bill Waln has been a wildland firefighter since 1987. He says climate change, longer fire seasons and urban sprawl are increasing the risk of damage to people and property.

“As Kansas City continues to spread out and we move into more of the rural areas, I think our risk is actually going to be very similar to what we’re seeing out west,” Waln said. “We’re going to see fires starting to impact some of the fringes of the Kansas City area and the metro area right away.”

Waln recommends "fire wise" landscaping to reduce the risk of spreading wildfire. This can include regularly cleaning leaves and other debris from a residence’s gutters, choosing non-combustible shingles and siding and removing vegetation directly next to a structure.

  • Bill Waln, State Fire Management Officer 
  • Chip Redmond, K-State Assistant Meteorologist and developer of the Fire Danger Forecast
Stay Connected
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.