POPE COUNTY, Ark. — The potential peril of a single spark is heating up in parts of Arkansas. Wednesday, 12 counties upgraded to a high risk of wildfire danger. The other 63 counties remain under a moderate risk of wildfire danger.
Pope County is at the edge of what is considered high risk, but if conditions persist as is, people can expect the high risk to spread further into the state just like burn bans have.
Walking through the cracking yellow grass and the crunching brown leaves, Russellville resident Rose Bailey finds it hard to remember such a strength-sapping sauna.
She’s lived in Pope County 50 years and said, “It’s like we didn’t have Spring. We went right into hot.”
It’s so hot, dry, and breezy Jeff Frizzell, the Arkansas Forestry Division District 6 Forester, made the recommendation to upgrade Pope County and the rest of district 6 from moderate to high risk.
“We are having a lot of wildfires right here right now that the surrounding districts aren’t having yet,” explained Frizzell.
The 12 counties in district 6 have fought at least 20 wildfires in the past month. The causes and difficulty to keep them from spreading
also matches high-risk criteria.
“Hitting a rock and a spark can ignite a fire,” Frizzell stated. “Tall dry grass and a hot vehicle can ignite a fire.”
Frizzell said the upgrade has not gone beyond Pope County because other areas have seen rain Northwest Arkansas has not, but in his words, “Once the conditions are met in those areas, we can expect higher fire danger there too.”
So officials ask people to follow their burn bans and be mindful. Something Bailey said she’d like to see more of on the Interstate.
She recalled, “People throwing out cigarettes and the grass is so dry it whoosh takes off.”
Areas with high wildfire risk are being sent additional firefighters to keep the first responders fresh. There is one upgrade above high risk. That’s extreme for truly explosive wildfire conditions, but the Arkansas Forestry Division said nowhere in Arkansas is at that point yet.