LITTLE ROCK - This spring, severe rainstorms dumped so much rain that we saw devastating floods across Arkansas. Now, as we come to the end of autumn, we have just the opposite problem. Arkansas doesn’t have enough rain. This has led the Arkansas Forestry Commission to declare a state of High Wildfire Danger for every county in Arkansas.
Southwest Arkansas currently is enduring extreme drought conditions. As one of our Forestry Commission rangers put it, the state is bone dry.
In addition to the drought conditions in Arkansas, windy weather has combined with low humidity; frost is killing the grass, which dries out, and the hardwoods are dropping their leaves. All of this creates perfect conditions for wildfire.
As of Thursday afternoon, county judges had placed 61 counties under burn bans.
The forestry commission reports that in November, 311 wildfires had burned 6,000 acres. This has been the worst November since November 1989.
To date this year, 1,400 wildfires have burned through 26,000 acres. This is the worst year for wildfire since 2012, when wildfires burned 34,000 acres.
Any outdoor fire is a hazard, even when you set fire to a small pile of leaves. I encourage you to put off burning your debris until we receive some significant rain, and this might not happen until mid-December.
The most frequent cause of wildfires is the unintended result of carelessness with burning leaves and other debris. Arson is the second-most frequent cause. Lightning strikes, fallen power lines and tossed cigarettes occasionally are to blame, but humans – whether through carelessness or intentionally –are the culprits. Regardless of the cause, dozens of firefighters – sometimes hundreds – place their well-being at risk to put out the fire.
The forestry commission employs 195 wild-land firefighters, and a support staff that includes dispatchers, radio technicians, pilots and mechanics. The crews are spread out across the state so that we protect all Arkansans – rural, urban and those in between. Crews are trained and ready to head to a fire anywhere and anytime.
Our forestry commission teams depend on the assistance of firefighters with city, rural and volunteer fire departments, who often are the first to arrive. These departments are vital in fighting fires and protecting homes.
I applaud all firefighters who put aside their personal comfort and miss children’s birthday parties and sometimes Thanksgiving to put out our fires. They place their lives on the line to protect lives, homes, property, and one of our state’s great agricultural resources – timber.