Preparing for and Beyond the Wildfires

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK –Recent media coverage of the Oklahoma wildfires showed the devastation that occurred in the lives of many Oklahomans as wildland fire consumed over 120,000 acres of grassland, forests and hundreds of homes. Many homeowners have recalled in vivid detail how little time they had to gather belongings, but yet how fortunate they feel to escape with their lives. Possessions can be replaced, while lives cannot. This situation plays out across the nation every season as wildfires pass through the landscape.

As our hearts go out to fellow Oklahomans who have suffered wildfire losses, it gives us an opportunity to consider what we might do if we were faced with a wildfire in our backyard. Oklahoma Forestry Services (OFS), a division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, have joined with other states in implementing two national programs to assist homeowners--Firewise and “Ready, Set, Go!”

Firewise is a grassroots program where communities pull together to make themselves more defensible during wildland fire events. “We are adding new Firewise communities each year,” said State Forester George Geissler. “It is a great program where locals assess their fire risk and take steps to improve their chances of avoiding a devastating wildfire”.

Another program, Ready, Set, Go!, takes the Firewise concept a step further where individual homeowner assess their personal fire situation. In this, people are encouraged to think about what they would do if a wildfire were close to their home. These steps include:
• Ready – Preparing for the Fire Threat: Be Ready, Be Firewise. Take personal responsibility and prepare long before the threat of a wildfire so your home is ready in case of a fire. Create defensible space by clearing brush away from your home. Use fire-resistant landscaping and harden your home with fire-safe construction measures. Assemble emergency supplies and belongings in a safe spot. Make sure all residents residing within the home are on the same page, plan escape routes.
• Set – Situational Awareness When a Fire Starts: Pack your vehicle with your emergency items. Stay aware of the latest news from local media and your local fire department for updated information on the fire.
• Go – Leave early! Following your Action Plan makes you prepared and firefighters are now able to best maneuver the wildfire and ensuring you and your family’s safety.
If recent wildfires have already affected your landscape, you may be wondering, “What should I do now?” Soon after the fire is out, it’s time to start making some decisions. Although it may appear that the worst has happened, there are things you can do to protect your property from further impact and to restore damaged forests and woodlands to a healthy condition.

Stabilize and protect the soil by mulching or seeding grass. Soil erosion is the most damaging long term resource impact that occurs after a wildfire.
Assess tree damage. Wait until Spring leaf-out to determine if there is any dieback.
Contact your local forester. An OFS forester can help you assess tree damage and plan for future tree plantings.

You can learn more about Firewise, Ready, Set, Go!, and the services that OFS foresters can provide by visiting www.forestry.ok.gov/firewise or contact us by phone at 405-522-6158.