Officials take new precautions against fire danger in state

Friday, September 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Tinder-dry fields. Constant winds. Low humidity.

The conditions are ripe in Oklahoma for a disastrous fire season, but so far one hasn't developed.

There have been notable flare-ups. A 1,000-acre grass fire in Binger last month destroyed three houses and damaged several others. A fire in Adair County last week consumed some homes.

But to Chris Acuff, a field agent for the state's Forestry Services division, Summer 2000 has shaped up to be the Horrible Fire Disaster That Wasn't.

"Blazes right now don't seem to be causing great problems and we really don't know just why," Acuff said Thursday.

Likely, an outdoor burning ban over all but one Oklahoma county has had an effect.

But as rain stubbornly stays away from the state, the fire danger isn't going anywhere.

"Across the state we're in precautionary mode because it's so desperately dry," Acuff said. "If a (major) fire should happen it would be disastrous," Acuff said.

On Thursday, Acuff said the only notable fire in Oklahoma was a 160-acre blaze on a pine tree plantation in rural southeastern Oklahoma. There were 16 firefighters, three planes and a helicopter working to douse that fire, he said.

Looking to ensure smooth firefighting efforts in Oklahoma, Gov.

Frank Keating has tapped the National Weather Service to help fire officials monitor the weather situation in the state.

On Friday, two NWS meteorologists are to be stationed at the state emergency bunker beneath the state Capitol complex. They will provide weather information such as wind speed, temperatures and humidity levels to a Forestry Services representative directing firefighting efforts.

From Saturday through Monday, one NWS meteorologist at a time will be at the bunker. The staffing could continue past that if the situation dictates it, said Jim Purpura, acting chief meteorologist at the Norman NWS office.

Purpura said the extra duties won't take away from the agency's day-to-day forecasting abilities.

"The governor's office has given us enough lead time to juggle our staffing to make it work," Purpura said.

Meanwhile, a record 40th straight rainless day set a record in Oklahoma City Wednesday.

The previous record was 39 days from Dec. 25, 1985, through Feb.

1, 1986.

The rainless streak in Tipton in southwestern Oklahoma reached 70 days Wednesday.

Purpura said an inversion cap sitting over central and southern Oklahoma has prevented precipitation there, while the Panhandle has been receiving its scant precipitation through systems coming out of Arizona and New Mexico.

"If we look across the northern tier of counties, they're dry but not nearly as bad as the southern counties," Purpura said.

Seven southern Oklahoma counties have been approved for disaster declarations because of the drought conditions, but Purpura said help from above could soon be on the way.

He said the second or third week of September usually brings the season's first good cold front to Oklahoma, and may bring rain as well.

"Everybody seems to say that by state fair time we always get precipitation. That's not an accident," Purpura said. The State Fair of Oklahoma opens Sept. 15.

He also said there was a chance for rain in eastern and central parts of the state going into the weekend.