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Oklahoma Fire Departments Concerned About Wildfire Dangers

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Strong, gusty winds in the forecast for later in the week are whipping up concern about grassfires across the state. Most of the state is now lifted from the burn ban, but many firefighters say conditions are still extremely dry and that is fueling their wildfire worries.

News on 6 anchor Craig Day says it is still very dry across much of Oklahoma. That's prompting concern for firefighters. Many of them hope the burn ban is reinstated.

When Inola firefighters arrived at a weekend grass fire in Rogers County, even they were surprised at how fast a fire was spreading. The grass was short, which ordinarily would mean a slower moving fire, but it was extremely dry.

Inola Fire chief Barney Grigg: "It skipped just like you poured gasoline on the ground." The fire was started by burning embers of a day-old trash fire. "They just let it burn out. Thought they had it contained, but the wind come up yesterday from the South and it rekindled like all fires will do." Grigg says that worries him.

He says with the burn ban lifted for most of the state, many people are becoming too relaxed. Grigg says in his 31 years as a firefighter, he's never seen anything like last year when wildfires destroyed more than 600,000 acres statewide. He says if people aren't careful, this year could be just as bad. "It's just as dry now in November, as it was last year." Another season like last year's wildfire season would be tough on many volunteer departments that already had budgets stretched, equipment taxed, and manpower put to the test.

A fire in west Tulsa County last week came very close to about a dozen homes. Sand Springs deputy fire Chief Tom Jenkins: “bottom line is, anytime you're burning outside, you have to exercise caution. If it was my world, outdoor burning in areas where you were this densely populated would always be illegal."

For now, both firefighters hope the burn ban is reinstated and that the state gets much needed rain. Barney Grigg: "If we go through another winter like we did in '05, it will be a disaster."

The state agriculture department makes recommendations to the Governor on when and where to call for a burn ban. It's based on soil moisture readings from several different tests. The number of fires is also a factor.
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