By Jim Misunas
The National Weather Service has issued a high wind watch for central and northwest Kansas, which could produce extreme fire conditions Thursday.
Counties included in the high wind watch are Barton, Russell, Ellsworth and Lincoln counties. The high wind watch is in effect from Thursday morning through Thursday afternoon.
Thursday afternoon, northwesterly winds of 35 to 40 mph are forecast with gusts to 50 mph from a developing low pressure system. Most of northwest Kansas is included in the high wind watch.
Barton County is forecast to encounter a very high fire index at noon Thursday and forecast to be in the extreme fire index about 3 p.m. Extreme conditions are forecast for areas along and west of I-135.
Great Bend Fire Chief Mike Napolitano said extreme fire conditions can happen anytime during the year, depending on humidity, wind and moisture. No controlled burns are allowed in Barton County when the wind is higher than 15 mph.
‘‘The wind is the biggest issue, especially on land wildfires,” he said. “We don’t do anything different. But we’re aware and pay attention to the prevailing conditions. A high wind can force you to change tactics fighting a fire.”
Napolitano cautions anyone to be extremely careful with discarded cigarettes, a common cause of prairie fires.
“Just be vigilant,” he said.
The stiff northwesterly winds will challenge drivers on east/west roads, especially those with high profile vehicles.
A high wind watch means there is the potential for a hazardous high wind event. Sustained winds of at least 40 mph or gusts of 58 mph or stronger may occur. The public should continue to monitor the latest forecasts. Winds were clocked up to 56 mph Tuesday and Wednesday in Nebraska.
A fire weather watch has been issued for a wide area of Kansas including Barton, Russell, Lincoln, Ellsworth, Saline, Rice, McPherson, Reno, Harvey, Kingman, Sedgwick, Harper and Sumner counties.
The fire weather watch is in effect Thursday afternoon for extreme grassland fire danger. Relative humidity is forecast to be as low as 21 percent.
When the fire danger is extreme, fires of all types start quickly and burn intensely. All fires are potentially serious and can spread very quickly with intense burning. Small fires become big fires much faster than at the “very high” level. Spot fires are probable, with long-distance spotting likely. These fires are very difficult to fight and may become very dangerous and often last for several days.
Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly and become very difficult to control. Any outdoor burning is not recommended.
A fire weather watch means that critical fire weather conditions are forecast to occur. The public should listen for later forecasts and possible red flag warnings.