Forestry Commission delays wildfire preparations due to unseasonable weather

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - By this time of year, Arkansas generally has already experienced about 1,500 wildfires with over 20,000 acres burned - but this summer's unseasonable weather has put the wildfire risk at bay for now.

Only about 15,000 acres of Arkansas forest have burned so far in 2014 in wildfires. The decrease in fire activity has actually made the Arkansas Forestry Commission delay their preparations for the summer wildfire season. The arrival of state-contracted single-engine air tankers has been pushed back.

"We've asked them to come in two weeks late," said Joe Fox, state forester. "The fire danger is very low right now - extraordinarily low for July 30th. We're standing here and it's not even 80 degrees."

August 1st is usually the start to the summer wildfire season. August is second behind March for the month with the highest amount of wildfires in Arkansas - but not expected to be as high as in years past due to the cool and rainy weather so far this summer.

But despite the low risk, the risk still remains - especially for those in certain areas.

"Terrain, vegetation types, proximity between homes and forested areas," said Adriane Barnes, Arkansas Forestry Commission information coordinator, listing off factors when it comes to wildfire risk.

Barnes said a new tool called the Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal allows both the public and professionals to punch in even a street address and maps coordinate to show how high of a risk a home or neighborhood really is. It's a tool not only important for homeowners, but also for those who deal with city planning.

"When they go to build new substations for fire departments, when they go to decide where to plan mitigation projects - they can look at this data and make more informed decision about where the wildfire risk will be the highest," said Barnes.

The Forestry Commission warns residents who are in high risk areas to create a larger barrier between one's house and nearby forest, citing that to be the best wildfire prevention tool for homeowners. Also having necessary fire safety tools when in a higher risk area for wildfires is also reccommended.