Viola Fire Chief Boyd Dailey said his department was dispatched around noon to a reported grass fire at a barn on Highway 62. It appears someone was burning the outside coating off electrical wire, when the operation sparked a small grass fire.
"It was really windy and the wind caught it (the small fire) and away it went," Dailey said.
Viola resident Kathy Antus said she called the fire department when she saw the fire go down a hill toward a mobile home belonging to Alan Wright. "I was outside and the wind was blowing so hard, about 50 miles an hour, they kept saying, 'I can't hear you.' It was horrible."
Because the Antus' property was next in line, Antus said they hooked up garden hoses and began spraying and using rakes to keep the fire away from their barn.
"Because it spread so fast, fire departments had to concentrate on helping properties where homes were threatened," Antus said. "We were out there working around the barn until five o'clock, and, when we went in, we still had a woods on fire."
While firefighters initially put out the fire around Wright's trailer, Antus called them back when she noticed it was burning again. The fire was burning out of control by the time firefighters returned.
"Mr. Wright was away for the winter, staying at his sister's house," Antus said. "He's lost everything."
After the Viola Fire Department responded to the fire, it quickly called for assistance. Fire departments from Salem, Byron, and Sturkie soon joined the battle, along with Forestry Commission ground crews, and two airplanes which dropped water from the air.
From Highway 62, the fire traveled north, jumping across Brown's Chapel Road and continuing to spread northeast, between Viola and Sturkie.
"Our main goal was to contain the fire and protect structures," Dailey said. "As we saw the way the fire was traveling, we would put people (homeowners) on alert that they could be in danger."
While some people voluntarily left their homes because of the approaching fire, Dailey said he knew of no other homes which suffered damage. A barn containing farm equipment was destroyed by the fire, and some outbuildings on other property were destroyed or damaged.
By mid-afternoon, the Fulton County Sheriff's Department was asked to shut down traffic on Brown's Chapel Road, because of the large number of motorists who were driving down the road to see the fire damage.
"We had a lot of fire equipment and firefighters out there, and we just couldn't function with all that additional traffic," Dailey said.
Dailey estimates that the fire went across 400 to 500 acres. Firefighters were on the scene until about 5:30 p.m., before the fire was contained and dying down.
"For what we had, everyone worked well together," Dailey said. "It was just impossible to get ahead of it, because of the wind."
Also on March 6, a passerby discovered a fire near Oxford. The Oxford Volunteer Fire Department responded and, with backup from the Franklin Fire Department, was able to control it.
"We got lucky, since someone called the fire in and we were able to get to it quickly," Oxford Fire Chief Alan Estes said. "Later, the Forestry Commission dozer came and put a line around it to keep it from being a problem later."
Because of high winds and dry conditions, Arkansas Forestry Commission crews have been involved in well over 100 fires since the weekend of March 3.
Fulton County had a burn ban in place when the Viola area fire broke out, and Dailey said, in the dry, windy weather we are experiencing, people "need to use common sense."
Because rain was in the forecast for later in the week, Izard County has not had a burn ban in place, but is asking residents to call the Sheriff's Department before they burn.
"It's a good idea to call the Sheriff's Department and let them know if you're going to burn," said Izard County Emergency Management Director Bill Beebe. "Our dispatchers have been telling people, 'It's not a good day to burn, since it's windy and dry. Why don't you wait a day or two.' We hope people are listening to that advice. So far, our firefighters have helped with fires in other counties, as much as responded to fires here (in Izard County)."
Even though rain did arrive on Thursday, March 8, fire officials say the fire danger is expected to remain high, and precautions need to be taken before beginning open burning.
More and more people are making their homes in woodland settings in or near forests and rural areas.
There, homeowners enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the very real danger of wildfire. The Red Cross reminds you to follow the steps listed below, to protect your family, home, and property:
|*||Regularly clean roof and gutters.|
|*||Use 1/2-inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself. Also, screen openings to floors, roof, and attic.|
|*||Install a smoke detector on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries at least once each year.|
|*||Keep a ladder that will reach the roof.|
|*||Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.|
|*||Keep handy household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket, and shovel.|
|*||Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind by choosing building materials and plants that resist fire. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.|
|*||Rake leaves, dead limbs, and twigs. Clear all flammable vegetation.|
|*||Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures and dispose of them properly.|
|*||Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.|
|*||Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.|
|*||Remove vines from the walls of the home and mow grass regularly.|