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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Fighting the Flames


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Arkansas has suffered the worst start to a wildfire season in 60 years, with our entire state at extreme risk for wildfires. After experiencing the driest May on record, continued dry conditions in June led to 324 fires across the State. That's twice as many fires as in June of 2011, charring four times the acreage. Several fires continue to burn, and the potential still exists for larger, more disastrous blazes. Eighty-seven percent of Arkansas is now under a severe drought, and extreme drought conditions now cover more than a third of the State.

The destruction we've seen would be much greater if not for the hard work and cooperation demonstrated by our firefighters and their partners. The Arkansas Forestry Commission has again been at the forefront of the fight, with Forestry crews working long hours in triple-digit heat to protect our natural resources and communities. On behalf of all Arkansans, I thank these firefighters for their persistence and dedication.

The Forestry Commission has not done this alone, however, and we owe their partners a debt of gratitude as well. Volunteer fire departments around the State have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with AFC staff on nearly all of this year's fire lines. These men and women leave their jobs and families at a moment's notice to get on the front lines and contain fires. Without their quick response, these fires can get out of hand quickly.

The U.S. Forest Service has also assisted, even with so many resources already dedicated to larger fires in the Western United States. Three 20-person crews from Oklahoma have been on hand to help battle the flames. This week, the Arkansas National Guard also joined in, providing two Black Hawk helicopters and accompanying crews. The helicopters are equipped with 660-gallon buckets, and they are making water drops alongside the Forestry Commission's Single Engine Air Tankers.

Private companies are also stepping up to help near the Arkansas communities they call home. Deltic Timber, Potlatch, Green Bay Packaging and the Ross Foundation have all provided bulldozers and crews to assist in firefights. And fortunately, most Arkansans heeded warnings and burn bans and refrained from discharging fireworks during the July Fourth holiday.

The hard work of all of these entities has saved homes and businesses and minimized damage to our woodlands. But a serious, sustained threat still looms keeping the Forestry Commission on high alert, even if rain brings some relief. We hope our crews will get time to rest soon, but they will stay prepared for continual work throughout the summer.

It remains vitally important that Arkansans comply with burn bans, now in place in 73 of our 75 counties. Outdoor machinery should be used sparingly, as many fires are set accidently by heat or sparks from engines. Any outdoor grilling should be done away from grass and other dry vegetation. Our extraordinary firefighters have worked in dangerous and extremely hot conditions, and being cautious is one way to thank them for their service and help reduce the need for additional responses.

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