April 3, 2003
Posted at: 10:30 p.m. CST
JONESBORO, ARk. -- Unusually windy weather has helped ingnite more than 50 wildfires across Arkansas since this past weekend, and the state's fire season is just starting.
Things have been quite calm in Northeast Arkansas, compared to the Ouachita national forest area. That's where about 200 firefighters from seven states are battling blazes. Local forestry workers hope that Region 8 acreage isn't scorched before straw-like grass can turn green.
Wild and ornamental grasses waving in the wind is enjoyable to look at. Beauty, however, can be deadly.
"If you get a fire started," Tim Gill of the Arkansas Forestry Commission said. "The wind's gonna push it a lot faster than it would otherwise. (It) helps to dry out the fuels, so that they'll burn faster."
Fuels are things like litter, dry grass and brush. A pilot contracted by the AFC looks for smoke. Forestry workers often respond alone, using their bulldozing equipment to clear a ring around a fire.
"More often than not the local fire department responds, and then calls us if they need assistance," Gill said.
"We've not had that many serious grass fires," Capt. Aaron Keller of the Jonesboro Fire Department said. "But we have had some grass fires that have had the potential of getting out of cont out of control."
Fires throughout the state, and the current dry and windy conditions, have forced the governor to put fifteen counties under a burn ban including Izard, Sharp, Stone and White in Region 8. Bans are unusual in Northeast Arkansas, because of high humidity levels in air.
Burning waste like pine needles can actually be good for your yard. It gets rid of material on the ground that causes fire to spread quickly, but Gill says if you are going to burn, you need to do it when it's damp, and the wind is calm.
"We need to wait until it rains again," Gill said. "And we're also waiting for what we call a green-up, when the grasses and everything turn gr until the brown shades we see turn green."