By Trisha Gedon
Experts are encouraging Oklahomans to be aware of the Sooner State’s risk of wildfires.
John Weir, Oklahoma State University Extension associate specialist, said although parts of the state received good rain during the summer, vegetation goes dormant in the winter and can dry out. Precipitation can be fickle. Vigilance and preparation are always good ideas.
“As we get fronts coming through with higher wind speeds and lower humidity like we typically see this time of year, the fire danger can elevate pretty quickly,” Weir said. “One of the things we need to be thinking about is managing that fuel.”
Weir said the biggest concerns should be around homes and property structures, such as barns and outbuildings. It is important to think about such factors well before a fire comes your way.
“Make sure you have those fuels mowed down in equipment yards. If you have fenced-in areas, put some livestock on that land to knock down the fuels,” he said. “It’s a whole lot easier to contain and knock down a fire on land that has been managed.”
Landowners must consider where they put their hay. Most often it is stored in an area that has easy access, but is not necessarily safe. Hay stacked along a fence close to traffic runs the risk of a discarded cigarette or spark from a vehicle.
“Keep the old adage in mind of not putting all your eggs in one basket. The same is true for your hay,” he said. “Don’t put it all in one place. Spread it out. That way if something does happen, you don’t lose all the hay you have.”
Winter is predicted to have La Niña aspects, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration advisory. Weir said La Niña — a complex weather phenomenon that shifts typical wind and precipitation patterns — will have an impact on wildfire possibilities.
“With warmer temperatures and drier conditions, the fuels you see on the land are going to continue to be dry and continue to stay dry, which means the fire danger goes up,” he said. “There will be some rain, but we have what is called a one hour lag time fuel. What that means is it only takes about an hour for those fuels to go back to dry conditions following a moisture event.”
The fire danger is not just for rural land. Property owners within city limits also need to be cautious. David Hillock, OSU Extension consumer horticulturist, said there are a number of steps homeowners can take to improve safety around their homes.
“Things as simple as keeping the grass mowed down, raking back leaves and cleaning out gutters can help save your home from a fire. Also, remove items from around the home that can burn easily, such as firewood, dense vegetation and flammable trees like redcedar,” he said.
“Keep the trees pruned on your property to cut down on fire fuel.”
While some homeowners enjoy lots of trees on their property, Hillock said flames can move through them quickly. He advised residential tree pruning.
“SUNUP,” OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources’ agricultural television program, has an informative segment on wildfire prevention. OSU Extension also has additional information online regarding wildfire prevention and management.
Another useful source of fire management information is the Oklahoma Mesonet, a world-class network of environmental monitoring stations designed by scientists at OSU and the University of Oklahoma. The site also offers complete weather information, as well as educational material for teachers.
Gedon is a communications specialist with Oklahoma State University’s Agricultural Communications Services.