Firefighters Use 'Backfire' Technique To Stop Wildfire Near Okmulgee

Tuesday, March 21st 2017, 7:17 pm
By: News On 6

Crews were on guard Tuesday as 1,000 acres of wooded area burned west of Okmulgee.

The wildfire started at a gun club over the weekend and eventually spread into the Okmulgee Wildlife Management Area.

For much of Tuesday, crews monitored the wind - using it and the lay of the land to keep a large wildfire contained.

Towering plumes of smoke and scorched earth inundate the Okmulgee Wildlife Management Area - conditions near perfect for the fire to spread.

Biologist Rex Umber with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife said, "We’re just having to live with the conditions that are here because it is a wildfire and so we’re trying to contain it."

Umber said the fire started over the weekend at a nearby gun range.

"They tried to suppress it with hand tools but it wasn't really successful," he said.

The fire spread and workers from the Oklahoma Forestry Services fought back, fighting fire with fire.

Crews are not fighting the fire; instead, they're doing what's called backfire - or preventative fires - using the wind speed and direction to burn the land before the wildfire reaches it.

"You back up to a good fire break, set your backfires and let it burn in,” Umber said. “And that way it's black and you have it contained."

Umber said this keeps it from spreading to private property because it reduces the “fuel load.”

The goal for the better part of the day was to keep the fire from crossing a road because, just 10 feet away, there is fuel ready to burn.

"If there's some snags that's on fire right close to the fire guards here we can cut them down and take care of them,” Umber said.

The fire has burned more than 1,000 acres of wooded area.

As the wind shifts throughout the night crews will move locations to make sure they keep it contained.

No injuries have been reported and no buildings have been damaged by the fire and the exact cause is still unknown.

One positive note is that the area was already scheduled by the state to be burned this year as part of wildlife conservation efforts.