The Oklahoma Forestry Services recently released data on 2018 wildfires. Over the course of the year, a total of 1,026 fires burned approximately 466,864 acres of land.
Fire Management Staff Forester Drew Daily said that while wildfires can occur at any time, they tend to be heaviest between the months of January and April. He also said that though the recent heavy rains will likely make this year’s fire season less severe, the risk remains. In fact, the wet weather can create its own set of problems.
“Obviously, the rain we’re getting now is delaying the fire season, but that’s all it is — a delay,” Daily said. “It’s beneficial from a wildfire standpoint because we aren’t expecting as much fire activity as we had last year in the near term.”
Daily said that dormant fuels such as grass only need “a day or so” of drying before they become highly flammable, stressing that there will be an excess of dormant fuel this year.
“(Last year) it turned out to be a really good later half of the growing season, so right now we’re dealing with the fuel load that was created from the growing season over last summer,” Daily said. “In a lot of places the haying operations and grazing really did not keep up with the growth rate. So we’re looking at a lot of places across the state that have an above-normal fuel load.”
Daily said that if the excess amount of dormant fuels ignite, fire fighters will face a unique set of challenges because of the heavily saturated soil.
“This can limit the normal tactics that fire departments use with engine attack,” Daily said. “They’re more prone to get stuck in saturated soil which can ultimately hamper the firefighting effort. They may need to find multiple points of entry to different fires just because the most obvious path may be so muddy it inhibits their access.”
Daily said that there are two main steps home owners can take to prepare and protect their homes from a possible wild fire. They can make sure their grass is mowed short and that they have distanced any flammable materials or objects from their home. The second thing is to make sure access to their property is clearly marked and that fire vehicles can easily reach any structures. This is because fire engines are much longer, taller and wider than cars and trucks.
Daily said those who see a wildfire should immediately call 911. He also stressed the importance of avoiding areas that are burning so that fire crews can effectively do their job.
“Anything that shortens the fire season like the rains we’ve been getting is a benefit, but we’re not out of the woods until we see that good green-up that usually comes around May,” Daily said.