Wildfire risks statewide remain high despite rainfall

by George Jared ([email protected]) 622 views 

Many parts of the state received a soaking, prolonged rain Tuesday (Oct. 25), but state agriculture officials are still warning residents that many parts of the state are still under a serious wildfire threat caused by extended drought conditions.

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division is reminding Arkansans that wildfire danger is elevated across the state and currently 62 counties remain under a burn ban.

“Conditions are dry with low humidity statewide,” said State Forester Joe Fox. “We are seeing an increase in the number of wildfires and their intensity, and that’s a trend that will continue until we see significant rainfall. With this in mind, we are asking citizens of the state to be mindful of this risk and avoid burning.”

The Forestry Division maintains a county-by-county Wildfire Danger map with four risk levels: low, moderate, high, and extreme. Risk levels are determined by drought status and long-term weather forecasts and are defined by how easily fires can start and how hard they are to contain. The Wildfire Danger map can be found here.

Low risk means that fuels do not ignite easily. Moderate means that fire can start from accidental causes.

High risk indicates that fires ignite easily and spread quickly. With high risk, unattended brush fires and campfires are likely to escape and fires may become serious if not attacked early. Extreme risk means fires start quickly, spread furiously, and burn intensely. Every fire started has the potential to become large, officials warned.

The southernmost 16 counties have been given the “extreme” designation, while the rest of the state remains under “high” risk levels. Additionally, 62 counties are under burn bans. Burn bans primarily prohibit activities that involve an open flame. This includes fireworks, campfires, trash burning, open flame grilling, and prescribed or controlled burns.

Robert Murphy, Director of Emergency Services for the Forestry Division, said it’s important to heed these burn bans.

“In these conditions, it’s very important for Arkansans to avoid burning and remain cautious,” he said. “We’re seeing several large fires that start as small, controlled backyard fires.”

Murphy also recommends caution when driving or operating machinery.

“It’s important to remain cautious when driving through or working in dry grass,” Murphy said. “Trucks, ATVs, hay balers, and other vehicles can easily start fires by causing sparks over dry grass.”