Local firefighters prepare for potentially busy fire season

Sierra Rains
Multiple Love County fire departments and agencies responded to a brush fire on Tuesday near State Highway 32 and U.S. Route 77 in Marietta. Firefighters say conditions may be prime for high fire danger over the next few months.

Local firefighters are gearing up for what could possibly be a very busy fire season this year.

Ardmore Fire Department Fire Marshal Tim Lee said it is still too early to predict the extent of fire danger that may arise, but conditions have been prime for an increase in fire danger over the next few months.

Typically the fire season begins around the first of July, after the spring vegetation begins drying out and temperatures rise, and lasts until at least September.

“From July to September, for sure, are real danger months,” Lee said. “We’ve had a really wet year so it will cause our grass to grow really high, really fast and when the hot summer months come on it’s going to increase our fire danger.”

Areas across the state have seen high temperatures over the past few weeks, with the heat index reaching 104 degrees in the Ardmore area over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Norman. These hot, dry conditions are expected to persist into next week.

As temperatures rise, the spring vegetation dries out and the grass begins to brown, Lee explained. When the grass starts to brown, it will ignite much easier, from anything such as a simple spark from welding or a cigarette.

The summer months bring further concerns as individuals begin using more electricity while running fans and air conditioners — another common cause of fires, Lee said. However, grass fires remain the biggest concern as fire danger potentially increases.

Strong winds and dry air can contribute to grass fires spreading rapidly. The western part of the state experienced near critical fire weather conditions on Tuesday due to a mix of high temperatures and 45 to 50 mph winds.

Tall grass and clutter around homes can increase the potential that a fire spreads to residential areas, Lee said. On Tuesday, multiple Love County fire departments and agencies responded to a brush fire near State Highway 32 and U.S. Route 77 in Marietta.

According to the Love County Fire Department, the fire began spreading behind some houses in the area, fueled by debris and heavy vegetation in the empty animal pens behind one of the residences, which allowed the fire to become larger than if the area had been mowed and cleaned.

Several hay bales also caught fire and firefighters with the Enville, Greenville-Overbook and Marietta Fire Departments used a front end loader from a barn down the road to spread the hay out and extinguish the fire.

Officers and deputies from the Marietta Police Department and Love County Sheriff’s Office also assisted in putting the fire out before it could spread to the residences.

“Everybody needs to keep the grass cut close around their house and keep their shrubs down,” Lee said. Firefighters suggest keeping the grass mowed for at least 100 feet from any structure.

Woodpiles should also be kept at least 30 feet away from any structures and burnable materials should be removed from under and around all structures. On days with high fire danger, individuals should avoid outdoor burning.

Lee said the fire season also poses extra hazards and challenges for firefighters out in the field.

“As the heat increases our guys have to wear their protective clothing, which is hot,” Lee said. “So it causes them to wear down faster and we have to rotate them in and out more often. We have to keep them more hydrated and it’s just an increased challenge for us.”

The degree of fire danger over the next few months will heavily depend on the weather and whether the state sees more moisture or conditions continue to remain hot and dry.

“If the rains keep coming and the grass stays green then we’ll be okay,” Lee said. “But if the rains don’t keep coming and things start drying out — it’s a little early to tell yet, but there’s a good chance that we could have a rough season coming up.”