With the coolest weather so far this fall, many Arkansas residents are turning their heaters on for the first time this season. This is timely because Oct. 6 to Oct. 12 is National Fire Prevention Week. This year’s campaign encourages people to develop a fire escape plan for their home.
According to Beau Buford, assistant fire chief of North Little Rock Fire Department, people should regularly make sure their smoke detectors are working. He also says people should never take batteries out of smoke detectors to use in other devices. Parents should educate their children about firefighters so they will not react fearfully in an emergency situation, he says.
"The most important thing is prevention," Buford said.
He suggests practicing EDITHs which is an acronym for exit drills in the home. He says family members should find the best routes out of their house and establish a meeting place away from the home. Buford says practicing this drill a few times each year can help young children know what to do in the event of a fire.
Buford said the main cause of house fires is electrical malfunctions and negligence by leaving on heating equipment.
Fire Fest is a fire prevention carnival put on by the North Little Rock Fire Department. It’s scheduled to take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the McCain Mall parking lot. At the event, there will be a smoke house where children can practice a fire safety drill, informational pamphlets for parents, and firefighters talking about different prevention strategies.
The American Red Cross also supports youth preparedness programs. According to regional communications and marketing manager Josh Egbert, 891 Arkansas children were reached last year as part of a special project.
"We go into the schools with the Pillow Case Project and teach kids about fire safety. We give them a pillow case and show them things they can put in there in case of a fire," Egbert said.
The program is part of the Home Fire Campaign started by the Red Cross five years ago. The campaign was originally started to install free smoke alarms in high-risk communities.
According Egbert, at least 642 lives have been saved nationally since the campaign was launched. Last year, nearly 3,000 free smoke alarms were installed throughout Arkansas thanks to funding from the campaign.
House fires are not the only type of fires that Arkansans should be aware of, officials say. Joe Goudsward, senior forecaster for the National Weather Service, said this time of the year is the start of wildfire season in Arkansas.
"Usually as we start to head into the autumn and winter months, our grasses and fuels begin to die and become more supportive to carrying fire," Goudsward said. "The biggest concern when it comes to grassfires and wildfires is the humidity. The lower the humidity, the more grasses and shrubs will carry fire."
He also mentioned that strong winds contribute to fast-moving, intense fires.
Most wildfires in Arkansas are human-caused. Goudsward said that not putting out campfires, attempting to light fires in windy conditions, and throwing lit cigarettes into dry grass are all common causes of wildfires. It is also important to obey burn bans, he says.
"When burn bans are in effect, those are issued by the county judges and burning is illegal of any type. There could be serious legal repercussions if you do burn during a burn ban," Goudsward said.