Dry, windy conditions prompt burn ban

Logan County Fire May 5, 2014

By Traci Chapman

It’s a fire that’s more than 50 miles away, but dry conditions and high winds could bring flames to Mustang, officials warn.

That’s where common sense comes in, they said.

“People just need to take extra care and understand that the moisture we usually have had by now just hasn’t happened,” Mustang Fire Chief Carl Hickman said. “Normally this time of year we’re green, but this year we haven’t gotten as much moisture as usual.”

With a fire in Logan County still not under control Tuesday, Gov. Mary Fallin issued a burn ban for almost all of western Oklahoma and much of central Oklahoma. With continued high winds and the outlook for very little rain in the forecast, the situation wasn’t likely to change anytime soon, Hickman said.

“That burn ban is not something that will go away quickly,” the chief said.

The rain wasn’t the only issue, Hickman said. Although rainfall totals are significantly down from last year, it was the moisture in the air that was causing the most headaches for firefighters now, he said.

“A half inch or an inch of rain isn’t going to do much,” Hickman said. “When we have humidities that are like 10 percent, 12 percent, that’s desert dry.

“On a day to day basis, the drought is not as significant as high winds and dead vegetation,” he said. “Of course, the longer drought goes on, the more significant that becomes.”

Mustang offered assistance to Guthrie Fire Department in fighting the Logan County blaze. A handful of firefighters and one of the department’s water tenders traveled to the area to assist with firefighting efforts, the chief said. It was a difficult situation at best, he said.

“These wind-driven fires are just tough to combat – it takes a lot of resources,” Hickman said. “Sometimes we really can’t do a whole lot and we’re kind of at the mercy of the weather conditions.”

Residents and business owners could do a lot to help themselves and their neighbors during high fire danger times, the chief said. Following the burn ban restrictions and some simple precautions on their property could make the difference between a home that could survive a wildfire and one that would not.

“Keep grass mowed close to ground, keep grass watered, keep combustibles stored away from home – those are all easy things that make a big difference,” Hickman said. “For example, keep firewood away from the home, keep leaves cleaned out of gutters, don’t have a bunch of trees right against home.”

Cedar trees can be a big factor, the chief said. If a property owner must have cedars on their property, he recommended keeping cedar branches cut up high so fire couldn’t travel from ground to tree.

“Those go up so fast and put off so much heat, fire travels to anything nearby, including homes,” Hickman said.

There’s no 100 percent guarantee a house could be saved in a wildfire or grass fire, but those steps could at least give firefighters a chance, he said.

“We need defensible space around the home,” the chief said. “Our hope is your home has been prepared well enough so fire burns past it.

“That’s the best case scenario,” Hickman said. “Help us protect your property.”

The ban (click here for actual proclamation):

All outdoor burning, campfires, fireworks, etc. are prohibited under the burn ban. LPG and natural gas grills and charcoal fired cooking outside in a grilling receptacle with a lid are permitted, provided that the activity is conducted over a non-flammable surface and at least five feet away from any flammable vegetation. However, any fire started by one of these devices is still considered an “illegal” fire under the governor’s proclamation.