As Spring slowly lifts her head and enters the area, so too does the ever increasing danger of wildfires. It seems to be human nature to go out into the yard and burn winter debris at the first sign of 60 degree weather; that is a given. Unfortunately so are the winds often associated with March weather. These potentially devastating fires are even more prone after last year's ice storm left limbs and debris on the floors of woods. If even small sparks from yard debris float through the March winds and land in a wooded area, the potential for a huge forest or wild fire becomes very real.
Most people do not even consider the dangers when they begin this spring ritual. Although most people's yards have long since been cleared of ice storm debris, the damage to timber in the woods has not been cleaned up and has been allowed to sit and rot through the hot summer months, creating kindling or fuel for fires that, without the extra wood, might only be minor in nature.
Since the beginning of March, area fire departments and the Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) have reported numerous fires from grass fires to forest fires. The Ash Flat Fire Department responded to six fires during the last few weeks, while AFC worked to contain 27 fires that burned over 777 acres. The AFC also used air tankers to make water drops in Fulton, Izard and Sharp County March 6 and 7. According to March Phillips, District 8 Forester, he said, "Our crews were at their limits." In addition, the ice storm debris being in the woods making their jobs more difficult, it makes entry into the woods take two to three times as long as usual.
Although none of the counties have issued burn bans, the recent rains have helped the issue for the time being, but March winds are also responsible for quick drying. The U.S. Forest Service has also utilized grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help combat the increased wildfire danger by purchasing new dozers and staging single engine air tankers in the area, including at Batesville and Harrison. These tankers can carry up to 800 gallons of water and can aid firefighters on the ground.
The public, however, can help combat the fires by taking safety precautions including these offered by the Natural and Environmental Disaster Exchange System.
1. Build fires away from nearby trees and bushes.
2. Always have a way to extinguish a fire quickly and completely.
3. Never leave a fire, even a cigarette, unattended.
4. Use fire resistant materials when building or renovating structures.
5. Create a safety zone to separate the home from combustible plants and vegetation.
6. Check for fire hazards around the home.
7. Install electric lines underground when possible.
8. Keep all trees and shrubs trimmed to avoid contact with wires.
9. Remove all dead limbs and debris from gutters.
10. Keep chimney's clean.
11. Avoid burning, especially during the dry season.
12. Install smoke detectors on every level of a home.
13. Make evacuation plans from home and neighborhoods.
14. Plan alternate routes in case fire escapes become blocked.
15. Have disaster plans on hand.
16. Remove combustible items from around the house, such as lawn and pool equipment and firewood.
Taking these precautions can insure not only safety but may save the lives of your family and loved ones.