Right on cue with an advisory issued by the National Interagency Fire Center calling for an above normal threat of significant wildland fire potential for the month, March 2 saw the first major fire of the 2021 fire season in the area occur.
Just before 1 p.m. fire firefighters from Cleo Springs, Fairview and Ringwood were dispatched to a controlled burn out of control near the Williams Boy Scouts Camp southeast of Cleo Springs.
It wasn’t long until the three fire departments were joined by other county departments by way of Isabella, Meno and Ames. Additional crews from Alfalfa, Woods and Blaine County were also called in for assistance.
Surprisingly, the fire exhibited erratic characteristics at times on a day when the winds were somewhat light.
The blaze would keep crews on scene well into the evening hours.
When it was all said and done, the controlled burn coupled with the fire that grew out of control, approximately 2,000 acres were scorched.
Traditionally peak fire season in Oklahoma begins in mid to late winter and continues until the first major green-up in spring.
One problem that firefighters in the area will be facing this fire season is an increased fuel load.
Early and frequent rains last spring although helpful at the time, will serve as a great hindrance to firemen this winter into early spring, problem being that many of the grasses that benefited and flourished from rain last spring have long since gone dormant.
In a lot of areas, these grasses are nearing a foot tall which, in the right conditions, can cause a nightmare scenario.
Once thought to be “once in a lifetime” fires, the large scale massive blazes witnessed across northwest Oklahoma have become more frequent over the last five to 10 years.
Fairview Fire Chief Travis Fortune commented on the advisory stating, “Citizens need to be very cautious with outdoor burning and also look at the future forecast when making a decision about controlled burns.”
Major County Emergency Manager Tresa Lackey echoed Fortune by stating, “Pay close attention to weather, not only the day you plan to burn, but for several days after.”
So what can you do to limit damage to your property and what safety tips should you consider?
Before a Wildfire
Know your risk. Do some research and learn how often wildfires occur in your area. Find out when there is the greatest risk and take wildfire safety precautions.
Evaluate your surroundings. If you’re in an area with a high risk for fire, examine the landscaping around your house. Move plants or trees that are too close to your house or burn easily.
Clear dead plants away from your house. Dead grass and plants are easily flammable and should be cleared at least 50 feet away from your house.
Install smoke alarms in your house. Make sure you test the alarms periodically to ensure they are working properly.
Put together an emergency kit. Your kit should include first aid supplies, blankets and any personal items you may need (medications, toiletries, clothing). If you have pets, make sure they also have adequate supplies.
Decide in advance what you will take with you. Keep personal belongings to a minimum and only take what you absolutely must have. If you have to leave immediately for safety reasons, leave everything behind.
Create an emergency plan. Planning in advance how you will protect your house and how you will evacuate if necessary can help minimize injury and damages. Choose a meeting place away from your home for family members to gather in case you are not together when a fire happens. Designate a neighbor to evacuate your pets in case you are not able to get home during a fire.
If a Wildfire Is Approaching
• Prepare to evacuate. Listen to emergency channels and know the status of the fire. Put emergency supplies and must-have items in the car so you can evacuate quickly. Evacuate immediately if told to do so.
• Protect your property. If you have time, use a hose to wet down your house, the roof and the surrounding area. Turn off the gas in the house.
After a Wildfire
Return only after it is safe. Do not go back to your house until officials declare it safe to do so.
Watch out for ash pits and hot spots. Even after a fire has been extinguished, small fires can flare up without warning. Check your house and surrounding property for hot spots and extinguish them immediately. Also watch out for ash pits-holes full of hot ashes left by burned trees. Mark off ash pits so no one falls into them and injures themselves.
Document the damage to your house. Take photos and video and make a written list. You will need this documentation for insurance purposes.
The National Fire Protection Agency also issues the following safety steps:
Before a wildfire
threatens your area
(In and around your home)
• Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks. This prevents embers from igniting your home.
• Remove dead vegetation and other items from under your deck or porch, and within 10 feet of the house. Learn more about the basics of defensible space on the Firewise website.
• Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
• Remove flammable materials (firewood stacks, propane tanks) within 30 feet of your home’s foundation and outbuildings, including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house, deck or porch.
Wildfires can spread to tree tops. Prune trees so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet from the ground.
• Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. If it is brown, cut it down to reduce fire intensity. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfires.
• Don’t let debris and lawn cuttings linger. Dispose of these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.
• Inspect shingles or roof tiles. Replace or repair those that are loose or missing to prevent ember penetration.
• Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh no larger than 1/8 inch to prevent sparks from entering the home.
• Enclose under-eave and soffit vents or screens with metal mesh to prevent ember entry.
Learn more about how to protect your home and property at www.firewise.org.
Creating an emergency plan
• Assemble an emergency supply kit and place it in a safe spot. Remember to include important documents, medications and personal identification.
•Develop an emergency evacuation plan and practice it with everyone in your home.
• Plan two ways out of your neighborhood and designate a meeting place.
• Learn more about emergency preparedness planning on NFPA’s emergency planning webpage.
In your community
• Contact your local planning/zoning office to find out if your home is in a high wildfire risk area, and if there are specific local or county ordinances you should be following.
• If you are part of a homeowner association, work with them to identify regulations that incorporate proven preparedness landscaping, home design and building material use.
• Talk to your local fire department about how to prepare, when to evacuate, and the response you and your neighbors can expect in the event of a wildfire.
• Learn about wildfire risk reduction efforts, including how land management agencies use prescribed fire to manage local landscapes.
• Learn how you can make a positive difference in your community.
During the time a wildfire is in your area
• Stay aware of the latest news and updates from your local media and fire department. Get your family, home and pets prepared to evacuate.
• Place your emergency supply kit and other valuables in your vehicle.
• Move patio or deck furniture, cushions, door mats and potted plants in wooden containers either indoors or as far away from the home, shed and garage as possible.
• Close and protect your home’s openings, including attic and basement doors and vents, windows, garage doors and pet doors to prevent embers from penetrating your home.
• Connect garden hoses and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water. Firefighters have been known to use the hoses to put out fires on rooftops.
• Leave as early as possible, before you’re told to evacuate. Do not linger once evacuation orders have been given. Promptly leaving your home and neighborhood clears roads for firefighters to get equipment in place to fight the fire, and helps ensure residents’ safety.
After a wildfire has
• Continue to listen to news updates for information about the fire. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
Visit FEMA/Ready.gov for more information regarding wildfire after an emergency.
As of press time, Texas County was the only county in the state to have a burn ban enacted.