BY LEANN DILBECK –
Forest Service personnel from the Ouachita and the Ozark/St.Francis National Forests have now contained three wildfires that started Thursday in neighboring Montgomery County. Yesterday was among the highest days for wildfire frequency in Arkansas for 2015, with approximately 28 wildfires, and more than 500 acres burned.
The largest of the three fires, The Gaston Fire, south of the Hog Jaw community, was just contained earlier this morning. Early estimations have the wildfire consuming approximately 80 plus acres but the final acreage will be determined later Friday. The Arkansas Forestry Commission personnel and dozer were involved in battling the remote fire. Helicopters made water drops during the peak of the battle on Thursday in support of ground action.
A second fire, the Warren Fire near Black Springs, was fully contained to 14 acres by 6:30 pm on Thursday. Volunteer fire department personnel assisted the Arkansas Forestry Commission.
A third fire now being called the Briley Fire was contained by 7:30 pm last Thursday and only involved 1 acre. Volunteer fire department personnel also assisted.
With no lightening strikes in the area, the cause of the fires is considered suspicious and is under investigation.
Officials credit swift response to the fires’ containments and are grateful since the National Weather Service issued a Fire Weather Watch to be in effect Friday morning through Sunday evening for a large portion of Arkansas. A cold front will move through the region tonight with high pressure closely following. The close proximity of the systems will create gusty winds, mainly during the daytime hours through the weekend and certainly could have complicated the efforts of the crews.
With so many expected in the woods this weekend for the opening of muzzleloading season and optimal hiking/camping weather, the AFC is working harder than ever to spread the word about the necessity for wildfire safety and wildfire awareness until weather conditions change. As of Thursday at 3 p.m., 12,732 acres have burned in Arkansas with 996 reported wildfires. Yesterday, approximately 500+ acres burned in approximately 28 wildfires (total numbers are still be tallied from fire reports). 2015 wildfire statistics are relatively low compared to the last year of high Arkansas wildfire frequency –which was 2012, when 34,434 acres burned. In both 2013 and 2014, Arkansas experienced lower-than-normal wildfire frequency. Arkansas has had good growing seasons this year and the previous two years, alongside fewer wildfires, which also means more fuels are on the ground for wildfires to burn.
“The unusually dry and hot conditions for October add to the problem of low humidity and gusty winds, all on a weekend when many Arkansans will be in the woods,” said State Forester Joe Fox. “We encourage Arkansans to enjoy our forests and wildlife, however, we stress heavily to use extreme caution with any type of flames, to avoid all outdoor burning, and to report wildfires quickly,” he said.