Oak Hill Fire Department improves area wildfire safety

Updated: November 24, 2017

Todd Gore with the Arkansas Forestry Commission presents a check to Oak Hill Fire Chief Bryant Davis. The check was for a $1,000 grant from Arkansas Firewise as part of a large-scale wildfire prevention effort across their fire district. Pictured are (from left): Front – Busta Willis and Mica Crow; Back – James Pearson, Rick Shelton, Todd Gore, Bryant Davis and Matt Teston.

Special to the Little River News

Oak Hill Fire Department recently received a $1,000 grant from Arkansas Firewise as part of a large-scale wildfire prevention effort across their fire district.  The Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) Firewise program is a nationally recognized wildfire safety effort that works with communities at a local level. As part of Firewise USA recognition requirements, Oak Hill crew members completed wildfire safety assessment surveys on structures in their fire district. From that data, they created a Community Wildfire Preparedness Plan, which outlines wildfire mitigation projects and concerns in the next 3-year window (residents may request a copy).

“The Oak Hill Fire District is at risk for wildfire,” said Arkansas Firewise Coordinator, Travis Haile. “With the terrain and so many areas exposed to wind and thick undergrowth, it is a great place to focus defensible space and wildfire safety efforts. The Arkansas Forestry Commission is proud this fire department is so willing to make wildfire prevention a part of local concerns.”

The primary mission of the Firewise USA initiative is to improve a community’s defensible space, or the area closest to homes (up to 300 feet from structures) that should be treated for wildfire-resistance. Oak Hill firefighters have visited homes, listened to homeowner concerns and distributed safety information at various events this year. Because of these efforts, the fire department can receive an additional $2,500 grant to fund wildfire equipment and training through participation with Arkansas Firewise.

So, what are the primary wildfire concerns for residents in Oak Hill and the surrounding Little River County area – and very importantly, what can homeowners do to help firefighters make homes safer?

– Spacing between Vegetation and Homes: The area around the home and up to 300 feet from homes should contain lean, clean and green vegetation of all kinds – this includes your landscaping, grass, trees and shrubbery. Homeowners primary focus should be directed at the Immediate Zone

(0-5 feet from the home). Keep your grass mowed short and provide water, making it very resistant to fire embers. Trim your trees so limbs do not touch your roof, windows or deck areas; also work to keep limbs trimmed at least 6 feet up from the ground so that a small surface fire is not transferred to treetops. Finally, keep dead vegetation like leaves, twigs and pine needles cleared from your roof, porches, vents and structure walls. These dead plant materials spread flames between vegetation and homes.

– Think of your yard as your primary defense against wildfire: Consider any debris, trees, vehicles, fences, workshops, doghouses, RVs, barns or otherwise – that could connect wildfire from the woods to your house – a hazard. Any cleared area that could be used to stop a fire is helpful.

– Be mindful of burn bans and high fire weather: Though it’s not always convenient for homeowners during burn bans, they are declared by county judges when conditions are too dangerous to burn. Firefighters encourage residents to stay informed about burn bans via radio announcements, television, or by visiting arkfireinfo.org for an up-to-date statewide map of burn bans. Additionally, it’s important to remember that even without burn bans, when winds are high and humidity is low, burning is still very dangerous. Don’t leave trash, leaves, or brush unattended while burning at any time, especially when the weather is ripe for high wildfire danger.

– Mailbox Lettering: It’s easy enough for firefighters to find a home when smoke is billowing from all sides, however, it becomes very difficult to locate emergencies and possible victims in the middle of the night or during rain when nature has no way of pinpointing a scene. While everyone understands applying reflective letters may take some time, Oak Hill firefighters encourage everyone to get correct addresses posted in 4-inch letters as soon as possible to allow for the quickest response time.

The leading causes of wildfire in Arkansas are burning debris fires and arson. Debris fires include a broad list of accidents related to trash, brush pile and leaf burns, while arson fires are those lit intentionally. Homeowners often light fires when conditions are too windy, during burn bans, or in areas that are not appropriately separated from the surrounding wildland area. Firefighters hope homeowners make educated decisions about using fire and encourage residents to call anytime they hope to burn so that should a situation change, fire trucks can arrive quickly.

Many times homeowners take for granted that a fire department could save every home from fire; this is not a reality. What is a reality, however, is that residents can take active steps to ensure that their home could be saved in the event of a wildfire by maintaining a defensible space.

The Oak Hill Fire Department and the AFC hope to support you in all efforts to reduce wildfire risk. Call 501-813-2554 for more information about Firewise, or visit the website at www.aad.arkansas.gov/arkansas-firewise1. Remember to call 911 to report wildfires or emergencies in your area.