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Blog: Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Firewise Statewide

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Already this year, wildfire activity is surging in Arkansas. And because of unusually low humidity levels, we continue to be at higher risk of these unpredictable and dangerous blazes. Fortunately, our communities and local fire departments work hard to mitigate and prevent wildfires. In fact, the National Fire Protection Agency recently named Arkansas the number-one Firewise state in the country for 2013. We are proud of this recognition, but our vigilance must continue to increase for the upcoming fire season.

If the first two months of 2014 are any indication, prevention will be key this year to avoiding widespread devastation. In January and February, Arkansas had more than double the 10-year normal average for wildfires. Altogether, they burned more than 7,000 acres of forests and grasslands across the State. And now we're in March, typically a low humidity month with a greater risk for increased wildfire activity.

Communities can protect themselves by joining the Arkansas Firewise program through the Arkansas Forestry Commission. The program works with fire departments and civic groups on mitigation projects and community education. Any group can request an Arkansas Firewise Team presentation to address area-specific wildfire hazards and complete on-site wildfire risk assessments.

By educating more Arkansans and communities about wildfire safety, we can decrease the damage these blazes inflict. In many cases, we may also be able to prevent their occurrence entirely. That's because humans are the leading cause of wildfires. In fact, landowners burning trash or dead vegetation started more than 40 percent of the wildfires in 2013. And, even worse than these accidental fires, we know that more than a quarter of all wildfires are tied to arson.

In dry conditions, it's extremely easy for small fires to get out of hand. The northwestern third of Arkansas is currently categorized as "abnormally dry" by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly three dozen Arkansas counties are in "moderate danger" of wildfires, according the Forestry Commission.

By complying with burn bans and following other fire precautions, we're also doing our best to help our firefighters. These brave men and women, many of them volunteers, work extremely hard and risk their lives for our protection. We were reminded of this earlier in the year when Jake Harrell, a pilot for the Arkansas Forestry Commission, died in a plane crash while scouting for fires in Montgomery County. Jake had been flying fire detection routes for the Forestry Commission since 2005. Always the consummate professional, Jake was proud of the vital role he played in protecting our citizens and our natural heritage.

Over the past few summers, many states have been devastated by out-of-control wildfires. The potential danger will be high again this year, including in Arkansas. Please do you part to help prevent fires by going online for more information at arkansasfirewise.com and arkansasforestry.org. Everyone's safety improves, including firefighters and emergency responders, when neighborhoods become Firewise communities. Working together, we can prevent brush fires, grass fires and forest fires from becoming major disasters.


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