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How to protect your property and belongings from wildfires

OSU Research Matters is a bi-weekly look inside the work of Oklahoma State University faculty, staff and students.

Wildfire season in Oklahoma is November into early April. The winter months are dry, and March has proven to be the windiest month in the state. On top of this, Oklahoma has been experiencing a drought, putting Oklahomans at a bigger risk for wildfires.

In this episode, Meghan Robinson speaks with John Weir, a fire ecology specialist with OSU Extension. His research and teaching explores all the aspects of fire and its effects on plant communities, wildlife and livestock. Meghan and John discuss Oklahoma's wildfire risk and prevention methods.

TRANSCRIPT:

ROBINSON: How would you assess Oklahoma's wildfire risk this season?

WEIR: Wildfires occur almost any month of the year, and our biggest time of year that we have wildfires is typically November through the first part of April, end of March. This is due to the fact that, number one, most everything goes dormant in Oklahoma. So, all of our grasses, all of those fuels and stuff are dormant. So they're not actively growing. That gives you all kinds of dried out fuel.

Secondly, the winter months are the driest time of year in Oklahoma. We received the least amount of rainfall on average during those three months. Also, again, a lot of our frontal systems and our weather patterns that we have are conducive. We get a lot of these north wind fronts, these cold fronts that come through, and most of them are dry. They're usually not associated with much moisture at all. And so they dry the atmosphere out. And so that's where we get those extreme dry conditions.

March is typically the biggest wildfire month. We typically have the most wildfires. We've typically seen a lot of the biggest wildfires during the month of March. March is the windiest month of the year in Oklahoma. On average, it's the windiest month. And if you look at the biggest factor that puts wildfires at risk, it's about wind.

ROBINSON: I'm an animal lover. So I just have to ask, what about these poor little animals? How are their habitats impacted by wildfires?

WEIR: Animals are not innately feared of fire like we see TV has portrayed it in a lot of things. I've seen snakes crawl along the edge of a fire line, trying to crawl through the fire. They feel the heat and then they moved back. So again, most animals can flee. So they run and get ahead of it or look for breaks in it and go through it, or they fly, so they can fly away, or they burrow under. So they have the ability, you know, they live underground.

ROBINSON: And that's protection?

WEIR: That's protection. The heat from a fire, even prescribed fire or wildfire, doesn't typically penetrate the soil more than a quarter of an inch. Because think about it: heat's rising, so it's not going down. Also, the fire does not linger. Most wildfires and even prescribed fires move quickly across the ground. Yes, they may be maybe creating temperatures up to 800,000 degrees, but it's all going up. It's not penetrating into the soil.

ROBINSON: What, if anything, can we do to sort of decrease our risk and improve our safety during a wildfire?

WEIR: First thing is look around your house. And typically the first five feet around that house is the most important. So you want to look at, 'what do I have that is flammable right next to my house?' So, if I have a wooden deck built onto my house, what do I need to do? And I have a wooden deck on my house. And so that's one of my concerns. And so what have I done? I put skirting around the deck, so stuff cannot blow under and accumulate underneath that wood deck.

Patio furniture stored on the patio over winter - bring the cushions in. Not only it will help save the cushions, but it will also get less place for embers. If you have a lot of deciduous trees around your house and the leaves pile up in the corner or pile up in the eave and the guttering and stuff, clean those out.

Think about your out buildings barns, shops, things like that, that you have - do the same thing. Look around the perimeter of it, make sure things aren't there. Make sure you keep the windows and the doors shut. So errant embers, if there was a fire that occurred, they don't go blowing inside and find something flammable inside. Same thing with your house. Those are kind of the big things to really look for.

ROBINSON: For OSU Research Matters, I’m Meghan Robinson.

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