According to the latest situation report from the Oklahoma Forestry Services website, two major wildfire complexes have burned more than 350,000 acres over the past week, and are only partially under control. The 34 Complex fire in Woodward County has burned 62,089 acres and is 60% contained as of April 20, 2018. The Rhea Fire in Dewey County is more than four times that size at 289,078 acres and is only 25% contained as of April 20.
An article on Weatherunderground.com by meteorologist Bob Henson provides an excellent, detailed explanation of why Oklahoma is burning and points out that these large fires are certainly not unprecedented and are even becoming more common in recent years.
Henson’s article describes the main factors conspiring to bring these so-called “megafires” to Oklahoma – a place many don’t think of when they hear the word “wildfire.” The culprits include unusually serious wildfires – drought, high temperatures and persistent high winds; alternating wet and dry periods leading to a profusion of fire-prone vegetation; and the prevalence of a particular fire-prone species, eastern red cedar, throughout Oklahoma and the southern plains. I once heard a forester describe this tree as a “native invasive” – a tree that belongs there but without intervention spreads and grows and has significant negative impacts on the landscape. Henson helpfully points out that before European settlement, indigenous people set fires to keep these weed-like trees under control.
The trend toward larger and more damaging wildfires in the Southern Plains is clear, and the toll on people, the land and livelihoods is growing. In a haunting repeat of the March 2017 fires across Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado, today’s fires are destroying homes, killing people and livestock, and decimating crops and agricultural land upon which livelihoods are based.
To help the people and communities impacted by these fires, see this article that indicates where you can donate money and resources. To track wildfires, see NFPA’s map (image above) that pulls data from national sources and updates every 24 hours.
This growing trend of wildfire does not have to mean disaster. To learn more about what to do to protect your home and community, visit www.firewise.org.