Rain Should Help Slow Down Arkansas Wildfires

LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- The number of wildfires in the first six days of October was about half the usual total for the entire month, leaving forestry officials to hope rain forecast for the weekend will be enough to dampen the figures.

After overnight rains, the National Forest Service on Friday lifted burn bans for the Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis national forests. Ozark-St. Francis forest supervisor Charles Richmond said rain over the last two days reduced the threat of fire significantly.

As of Thursday, Arkansas had not had significant rainfall in six weeks and this September was the second-driest on record, said John MacLeod, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.

Humidity levels have also been low _ sinking to less than half of where they ordinarily sit for early fall _ further contributing to the volatile conditions.

Nearly 50 of Arkansas' 75 counties have active burn bans, and Arkansas Forestry Commission Fire Chief Don McBride said low winds have helped keep the fires small.

``The low winds have been what has helped us contain what (fires) we had,'' McBride said. ``If we had high winds ... we would have had some very large fires in Arkansas.''

Arkansas has had 68 wildfires during the first six days of a month that usually sees between 100 and 150 fires. McBride said the forestry commission enlisted the help of volunteer fire units and three small airplanes designed to drop up to 500 gallons of water at a time. The planes are used every year, but they may be required through the end of October, which McBride said would be unusual.

The commission requested the extra help when the amount of work required to combat the flames was too much for routine employees to handle.

``We've been running for six weeks straight. Yesterday alone we had 26 fires at reporting time ... and eight were still going. Night fires have been keeping them (firefighters) out late at night. It's just the fatigue factor of day after day responding to fires,'' McBride said Thursday.

He said he wasn't sure if the 1-2 inches of rain predicted will be enough to put an end to the dry season fire dangers adding that ideally, the state would need 3-4 inches of rain to make much of an impact.

``It'll of course slow down the activity for a few days, but if we don't get any more rain, it'll dry out and we'll have the same conditions all over again,'' McBride said.