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Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Prescribed burns begin in Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests

The Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests will be conducting prescribed burns in Arkansas and Oklahoma over the next several months.

The purposes of these burns are to restablish fire’s natural role in the forest ecosystem, improve forest health, and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires. Prescribed burns are conducted when the conditions indicate that natural resource management objectives will be met and there will be minimal impact to the public.

“The Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forest approach their prescribed fire season based on historic fire frequency, said Joshua Graham, Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests fire and aviation staff officer.  “On this landscape of 3.1 million acres of Federal land in Arkansas and the southeastern part of Oklahoma, the Forest Plans refers to burning up to a combined 250,000 acres annually to meet our historic normal desired condition over a period of 10-15 years.”

Prescribed fires, also known as controlled fires, are intended to meet several objectives.

“The first objective of prescribed burns is to reduce the potential for large, costly catastrophic wildfires,” Graham said.  “Other important objectives include improving habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, turkey, endangered Indiana Bats or Red Cockaded Woodpeckers and others, which are all essential in the balance of natural processes. 

With urban development continually spreading into the forests, we are no longer able to allow natural ignition to roam freely across the states as it did in prehistoric conditions.  Instead of allowing wildfire to move across the landscape unrestricted, land managers use controlled fire to meet similar objectives.”

People with smoke sensitivities, who are not on the Forest Service’s prescribed burn notification list, should contact their nearest ranger district to be added.

Many conditions must be met before a prescribed fire can be ignited. The day chosen must be a combination of the correct humidity, wind speed and direction, temperature, fuel moisture, and atmospheric conditions.  Factoring in all these requirements limits the number of days in which a prescribed fire can take place.

Flying drones over a wildfire or prescribed burn puts our pilots in danger. This violation of federal, state, and local laws may subject the offender to civil penalties, including fines of up to $25,000, and potentially criminal prosecution.

The Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests will notify local media outlets and smoke sensitive residents on days when prescribed fires are scheduled in their area. Daily updates on prescribed fires across the forests can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/ouachita or www.fs.usda.gov/osfnf, or by calling 888-243-1042.

The public is asked to report any unattended wildfires by calling 911 or the Forests’ fire dispatch at 501-321-5232.

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