Arkansas fire departments will be better equipped to fight wildfires in the coming months as the state enters what is traditionally the summer wildfire season. The Arkansas Forestry Commission announced Wednesday it had received $200,000 from the U.S. Forest Service to purchase 67 wildfire suppression kits and give them to volunteer fire departments statewide.
The distribution process begins in the wake of a new dry season beginning in August and projected to last through October. The kits include lightweight protective gear that will make it easier for firefighters to navigate dangerous terrain and includes items like hand rakes, backpack water pumps, and leaf blowers.
Spokeswoman Adriane Barnes with the Arkansas Agriculture Department expects firefighters and commission workers will make good use of the new equipment.
"The normal time period for higher than normal wildfire frequency in Arkansas is February to April and August to October," said Barnes. "We certainly do have the time of year ahead when Forestry Commission crews and our volunteer fire departments are more busy responding to wildfires."
Arkansas wildfires seasons are notably different from those around the country, she said, as they are tied to sudden changes in humidity and the quality of surrounding plant life.
"Most people would expect our fire season to be like it is out west, but it’s not at all. From August to October, we’re experiencing dried out vegetation due to the heat from the summer months. As temperatures become more mild, the humidity drops and when you couple dry vegetation with low to moderate humidity, your wildfire danger goes back up," said Barnes.
The distribution effort is part of the Rural Fire Program, a service provided by the Forestry Commission to better equip firefighters. The program has aided 230 volunteer fire departments since 2014.