On January 31, 2016 Oklahoma was issued its first ever “Fuels and Fire Behavior Advisory” by the National Interagency Fire Center. This advisory, which includes Lincoln County, alerts firefighters to intense, rapidly spreading and long duration fires, which may be difficult to put out and encourages the public to avoid areas where active firefighting is taking place and heed any and all evacuation notices of homes and businesses should an evacuation be initiated due to wildfire.
Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Wendi Marcy notes that Lincoln County, in its entirety, has been upgraded to the Severe Drought category by the U.S. Drought Monitor and conditions aren’t expected to improve anytime soon. “The lack of precipitation in the county this fall and winter, combined with the dry and dormant vegetation makes us very prone to large grass/wildfires which could potentially put lives and property at risk” she stated.
Marcy noted that she gets asked almost daily why there is no burn ban in place in the county. “It is not as easy to issue a county burn ban as one may think” she says. In addition to the majority of the fire chief’s in the county needing to agree that the ban is necessary “there are several requirements that must be met according to state legislature before a burn ban can be considered in the county” she adds. Those requirements, according to state statute are:
Prior to passage of a burn-ban resolution, the board of county commissioners must declare the existence of extreme fire danger. As defined in the law, extreme fire danger means:
1. Severe, extreme, or exceptional drought conditions exist within the county as determined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
2. No more than one-half (1/2) inch of precipitation is forecast for the next three (3) days by the National Weather Service and EITHER of the following:
3. Fire occurrence is significantly greater than normal for the season and/or initial attack on a significant number of wildland fires has been unsuccessful due to extreme fire behavior,
4. Where data is available, more than twenty percent (20%) of the wildfires in the county have been caused by escaped debris burning or controlled burning.
Marcy encourages Lincoln County residents to do their part in preventing wildfires by monitoring weather conditions very carefully if considering an outdoor burn of any kind, a spotter and water source should be present for welding or cutting torch use on unimproved surfaces, vehicles and ATVs should not be driven into tall grassy areas, individuals towing trailers should take time to check that they are not dragging chains or other items that could cause a spark and cigarette butts should always be disposed of in a proper container.
Firefighting efforts are often hampered by unnecessary vehicle traffic in the area of the fire, brush and debris surrounding houses and outbuildings, locked gates or difficult to access properties. Marcy states that cleaning up the area around your home and outbuildings to create what is referred to as “defendable space” greatly increases the chances that firefighters will be able to save those structures if threatened by wildfire and it is imperative, from an operational and safety standpoint, that you avoid any area where active firefighting is taking place – this is for your safety and the safety of the responders.
“We are anticipating a long and active wildfire season” Marcy said. “Residents can help responders better do their jobs by following the above guidelines and being diligent about fire safety” she adds.