LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Weather conditions are dry right now in most of Arkansas, not just in terms of rainfall but also in terms of relative humidity. Both factors play a vital role in fighting wildfires, and without some moisture in the next few weeks, we're likely to see more and more fires popping up.
"We're preparing for the worst, hoping for the best, praying for rain," said Arkansas Forestry Commission Firewise Coordinator Kevin Kilcrease. "The 2013 season, up to this point, has been relatively mild but the last couple weeks we've really started to pick up some."
Kilcrease says while this year has been a down year as far as fire activity, things have picked up over the first two weeks in September. The state has declared high fire danger in 22 counties in Southern Arkansas with burn bans now in effect for 27 counties.
"We've had an easy year until September, until just recently, until this last weekend," said Arkansas Forestry Commission Forester Joe Fox. "It is an off-year for fire but right now you really can't look at just the year, you have to look at the situation inside the year. We're getting toward the same kind of drought conditions now, especially in South Arkansas, that we were this time last year. In fact, we're dryer right now than we were this time last year."
Fox says this past weekend was by far the state's biggest weekend for fire activity this year. He also says, without a change in the weather, he expects more wildfires in the coming weeks.
"We've been under either low or moderate fire danger for the bulk of the summer and only in the last 2 weeks have we seen high fire danger come into the picture," said Fox. "The Fall is known for low humidity and if we continue to get no rain and low humidity we're going to have a worsening fire danger."
"A lot of times when we have this high-pressure dome that's sitting over us now it takes a hurricane to come in and actually break that up and create some rain for us," added Kilcrease. "Obviously we don't want to wish anything bad on the Gulf Coast people but that's probably what it will take to actually make a big change in our situation here."
Both Kilcrease and Fox stress that being aware of your surroundings and taking extra caution over the next few weeks can be critical when it comes to starting fires. They say of the 133 wildfires in Arkansas so far in September roughly 80% of those have been caused by humans. They go on to say that with conditions as dry as they are now, things from dragging a chain off a vehicle to lawn mowers and other machinery to cigarette butts or even a hot car sitting on dry grass can spark a wildfire.