A recent spike in propane prices and short supplies for heating homes in Kansas have prompted Gov. Sam Brownback to temporarily ease trucking regulations and direct state officials to help poor families.

Brownback announced Wednesday that he has ordered the state Department for Children and Families to give propane users priority in processing applications for an annual program that helps poor families pay utility bills, and the department plans to increase the staff dedicated to processing applications. The governor also directed the department to reach out to poor families to ensure that they can continue to get propane.

The governor issued executive orders suspending trucking regulations earlier this month, easing restrictions on operating hours and insurance and permitting requirements so that propane can be more readily delivered, particularly from outside the state.

And, during a Statehouse news conference, he urged Kansans to avoid makeshift solutions such as relying on stoves and grills to heat homes because of the dangers of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.

"We're going to be working through the system to make sure that people can get propane that they need," Brownback said during the news conference.

Amid short supplies, the national average price for propane spiked earlier this week at more than $4 a gallon, up more than $1 a gallon since last week.

In Kansas, about 83,000 homes rely on propane for heat, more than 7 percent of the total, higher than the national average, according to federal statistics.

Industry and state officials said national propane supplies were depleted by a late harvest that increased demand from farmers who needed to dry an unusually large amount of grain before storage, so that moisture didn't cause it to deteriorate. As colder-than-normal temperatures spread across much of the country, supplies dropped.

Legislators also are looking into the price spikes and supply problems. The Senate Utilities Committee has scheduled a Monday afternoon hearing, and Chairman Pat Apple said lawmakers need to do what they can to ensure an adequate supply.

"We also need to make sure we understand what's driving costs," said Apple, a Louisburg Republican.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.