Smoke from controlled burns in Kansas pushing into southeast Nebraska

Smoke from controlled burns in Kansas pushing into southeast Nebraska
Smoke fills the air as a pasture is burned in eastern Kansas in 2016. Ranchers do controlled burns to kill off weeds, and southerly winds carry the smoke to Nebraska. (World-Herald News Service)

State health officials have issued their first smoke alert under a new advisory system for times when smoke from agricultural fires is expected to impact air quality in Nebraska.

The first advisory indicated that moderate air quality conditions are expected in southeast and south-central Nebraska.

Wednesday, the affected areas included Douglas and Lancaster Counties and Omaha and Lincoln.

Also, the smoke drifted into locations just north, east and west of Tekamah, most of northwest Missouri and the cities of Falls City, Beatrice and Nebraska City.

Under moderate air quality conditions, unusually sensitive people are advised to consider limiting prolonged or heavy exertion.

Landowners in the Kansas and Oklahoma Flint Hills typically conduct prescribed burns in April each year to manage prairie and rangelands. During a typical year, about 2.4 million acres are burned in the Kansas portion of the Flint Hills region alone.

Under the new smoke advisory system, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services will issue a joint advisory if state and local agencies determine that air quality impacts are likely in the state.

Officials say the new system will provide more systematic and widespread notice.

The advisories will be based on data provided by the State of Kansas, smoke plume modeling and air quality monitors in Beatrice, Lincoln and Omaha. The Douglas County and Lincoln-Lancaster County health departments may follow up with advisories for their jurisdictions.

Depending on weather conditions, higher concentrations of smoke may be possible in the next two weeks.

Smoke from the burns can cause problems such as burning eyes, running nose, coughing and illnesses such as bronchitis. People with respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD, as well as pre-existing heart conditions, may experience worse symptoms. So may children and the elderly.

Steps to protect your health:

» Keep doors and windows closed and run air conditioners with HEPA filters.

» Keep hydrated by drinking lots of water.

» Limit or avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.

» People with respiratory or heart related illnesses should remain indoors.

» Contact a doctor if you have symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath or severe fatigue.

For current conditions of Nebraska’s air quality, visit airnow.gov.

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