Emergency Management: Increase in fire weather concerns

Rick Covert
Rick Covert

As of Monday, Jan. 25, with the passage of storm system, Franklin County has received from around a ½ inch to 1 inch of rainfall. We’ve had some typical mid-winter dry weather recently, along with some windy days which often yields an increase in fire weather concerns.

As we enter the month of February, many of us will be turning our attention to breaking ground and perhaps early planting for spring gardens. Some of your plans may involve burning off overgrowth where breaking ground is planned, or perhaps even burning off some land or brush piles as part of clean up. This is also the time of year when officials with the U.S. Forest Service and the Arkansas Forestry Commission begin conducting prescribed burns on federal and private lands.

If you have plans for burning on your property, landowners are encouraged to take a few precautionary steps. First though, if you live in city limits check with city hall regarding burn regulation ordinances. Next, check the local forecast, either through local media or by going to the National Weather Service Tulsa webpage at weather.gov/tsa. You will want to pay attention to the information regarding wind direction and speed, along with low relative humidity values which typically occur by mid-afternoon. Keep in mind that on days with gusty winds and low humidity, fires are more apt to spread quickly and get out of control.

After checking the forecast, we encourage everyone to contact the 9-1-1 dispatch center at (479) 667-4176, and request to be placed on the burn log. Advise the dispatcher answering your call that you are planning to burn on your property. In turn, they will request your address, a good call back number, where you pay fire dues if living outside of city limits and what you are planning to burn. A caveat to this is that on certain days when low relative humidity values are forecast to be in the lower 20% range, combined with gusty winds over 20 mph, and possibly abnormally warm temperatures, and the spread index forecasted at 32 or higher, citizens may be strongly encouraged to hold off on burning until conditions improve.

What If a Fire Gets Out of Control or You Need to Report a Wildfire?

Do not hesitate to call 9-1-1! The dispatcher taking your emergency call will ask a series of important questions, which are designed to be of benefit to the responding fire department(s) and possibly the Arkansas Forestry Commission. Please keep in mind that these questions are posed so that responders have adequate information for initial attack and arrive on scene with the appropriate apparatus.

We’ve shared this information before, but the following are the types of questions you may be asked. As part of you pre-burn planning, consider ahead of time and even write down how you will answer the following:

• Your name, cell or home phone number.

• Landowner if possible (it may not be your property).

• Fire location — both address and common name if you can provide it.

• Best access — which roads, farm gates, driveways, etc.

• What is burning? Grass, leaf litter, brush, wooded area?

• How tall is the grass? Ankle, knee, waist high, etc.?

• Color of smoke.

• Size – best possible estimate of acres or dimensions involved.

• Hazards – access road conditions, locked gates, fuel storage on property.

• Values threatened — structures, livestock pens, poultry houses, barns, power lines.

• Other resources such as pine timber stand, hay bales, tractors and implements, etc.

In the event suspicious activity is witnessed before a fire, make sure to advise the dispatcher. Try to give the best information possible about a vehicle observed in the area, such as a pickup truck or car, color and body style. Also, whether or not they have left the area and the direction of travel will be very helpful. If you are close enough to record a license plate that is especially useful, but don’t put yourself at risk if impossible to do so safely.