Kanza Education and Science Park Demonstrate Controlled Prairie Grass Fire

Many people have experienced driving through the Flint Hills and witnessing springtime prairie fires from the highway. On Monday, March 10th a similar controlled burn took place on the Kanza Education and Science Park site. 

The burn was conducted by the Westar Green Team with the Topeka Fire department assisting as part of an educational and training activity. Students of Topeka Public Schools and surrounding districts will have an opportunity to contribute to the restoration of the Kanza grassland and get hands-on experience and education in grassland ecology. 

Brad Loveless, Executive Director of Environmental Services at Westar, explained the many factors that contribute to a successful burn. With I-70 to the north, nearby neighbors to the south and a hospital to the southeast of the grassland, the direction of the wind is very important. According to Loveless, the “consistent and dependable wind out of the west (made it) a perfect day” to conduct the burn.

Loveless also explained how a controlled burn works. “When you do a controlled burn you have what’s called a backfire, which is on the downwind side. You basically use up all the fuel down there so that when the fire is carried by the wind it ends up stopping where it runs out of fuel. Those two components are critical.”

The goal of the burn was to rid the area of cool season grass and replace it with native grass and prairie flowers. High schoolers from Hope Street Academy, led by teacher Miranda Forgey, have been conducting studies in class for the last three years. They take samples from soil, plants and animals to observe and compare. Hope Street’s horticulture class will plant seeds indoors and transplant them, monitoring the seedlings’ growth along the way.

The controlled burn was made possible through the cooperation of several agencies including Westar Green Team, Topeka Fire Department, Topeka Public Schools, Kansas Dept. of Transportation and Kansas Highway Patrol.  

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