OSU Professor Says Best Way To Limit Fires Is With Fire

Tuesday, February 18th 2014, 6:17 pm
By: Craig Day

An expert at Oklahoma State University said many of the devastating wildfires we're seeing in Oklahoma are preventable.

It's a strategy of using fire to fight fire.

OSU professor Terry Bidwell is a rangeland specialist, with more than 30 years of expertise on preventing wildfires, by using fire.

"You don't prevent fires, I think you mitigate the damage fires can do," Bidwell said.

Bidwell said that's done by using prescribed burning, under controlled and safe conditions. The key is being proactive, rather than reactive.

"Areas that have a history of prescribed fire, like areas around a town or a ranch, if you do have a wildfire on those areas, it's much easier to suppress because you've got reduced fuels from a history of prescribed fire," Bidwell explained.

He said it can be a tough message for some to comprehend, especially when out of control wildfires can destroy homes and threaten lives.

A defensible zone around your house, with downed limbs or brush removed and the grass cut short can help, but it must be done ahead of time.

"That's a little late to crank up that chainsaw when you see the fire coming," said Bidwell.

Bidwell teaches not only at Oklahoma State, but at fire schools nationwide, stressing to various emergency agencies how controlled periodic burning can lessen the chances of catastrophic wildfires later.

"Just like the Mannford fires a couple of years ago, when that thing is up and running, there is no fire, federal resources, no tanker drops, no airplanes, no helicopters, nothing is going to stop that fire until the weather changes, so if you didn't control the fuels, the next option is to run for it, and that's what a lot of people had to do," Bidwell said.

He said without proper management, landowners could be jeopardizing not only their homes, but also the lives of firefighters.

"We've got a big issue across Oklahoma. If people don't control the fuels around their home, if they get a wildfire on their home, the fire department really can't do much about it," said Bidwell.

USDA conservation offices can help landowners develop plans for prescribed burns. Bidwell also said there are a number of professional contract prescribed burners in Oklahoma that can be hired to do the job safely.