Due to its topography, the abundance of heavily wooded areas and dry, hot weather, Oklahoma is listed as number seven on the 2017 list of top ten most wildfire prone states according to the Insurance Information Institute.
The very same precipitation that helped bring Lincoln County out of the drought early in 2017 may now be the reason wildfire danger is on the rise.
The substantial rainfall Lincoln County received in the spring of 2017 helped to reverse the severe drought conditions but, it also resulted in rapid growth of native grasses and underbrush. The long periods of below average precipitation and warmer than average temperatures that would follow has resulted in an increased fire fuel load; that is the amount vegetative material available to fuel a wildfire.
Low humidity values, little to no forecasted winter precipitation, high fuel loads and increasing drought conditions are cause for concern for firefighters and emergency management personnel in the county. The National Interagency Fire Center, Predictive Services division has rated the State of Oklahoma as ABOVE NORMAL for significant wildland fire potential; meaning there is a greater than usual likelihood that significant wildland fires will occur in Oklahoma, for the months of February, March and April and the Oklahoma Department of Forestry has asked that county wildland task force resources begin assessing their readiness to respond in anticipation of mutual aid requests across the state.
Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Wendi Marcy notes that while the threat of wildfire can be terrifying, especially amidst media coverage of the recent devastating wildfires in California, most wildfires are preventable. In fact, Marcy says, “approximately 90% of wildfires that occur the U.S. are caused by humans.” Unattended brush fires, illegal trash fires, negligently discarded cigarettes, and use of welding/cutting torches on unimproved work surfaces are just a few of the ways wildfires are started.
“Citizens play a large role in preventing wildfires,” Marcy says and Lincoln County responders are asking for your help. Dustin Miller, the Fire Chief with Jacktown Volunteer Fire department, encourages citizens to use common sense and stay up to date with weather conditions if they are considering any form of outdoor burning.
“If you are going to have any kind of control burn, you need to check the weather conditions for the day you plan to burn and at least a 24-hour period later,” Chief Miller states. He notes that a shift in wind speed or direction can quickly re-ignite a fire that the resident believed to be out. Miller also asks that residents wishing to conduct a control burn notify Lincoln County 9-1-1 by calling 405-258-9933 to report your burn. Other ways citizens can help to prevent wildfires Miller says are: making sure cigarettes are extinguished only in proper containers, never leaving an outdoor fire of any kind unattended, ensuring any form of outdoor fire is completely extinguished with water and using extra caution with any form of tool or equipment that may serve as an ignition source.
Preservation of life and property protection are the first priorities for Lincoln County firefighters during a wildfire response. It is critical, Marcy notes, that citizens report wild fires immediately by dialing 9-1-1 and that they evacuate immediately if asked to do so by officials. “Wildfire can travel very quickly and if you wait too long to evacuate a property that is in imminent danger the results could be loss of life,” Marcy said.
Chief Miller also wants residents to understand that unnecessary vehicle traffic in the area of the fire, brush and debris surrounding structures, locked gates or difficult to access properties may hamper firefighting efforts.
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 says. “Residents can help responders better do their jobs by following the above guidelines and being diligent about fire safety,” she adds.