Landowners share the importance of fire safety

A major concern for anyone living in rural areas is fire. Fire hazard potential determines safe burning, hay storage and insurance rates. Paying attention to wisps of smoke, especially during burn bans is critical for everyone’s safety, and when fires do occur, dealing with them is often a multi-community effort.
During a fire ban last March, the American Electric Power Company power lines in West Fork, Ark., caused two fires in 10 days during nice spring weather. The cause was deteriorating blue bird insulators. The date 1938 is clearly marked on a recovered insulator, and, according to James Crawley whose farm was the origin site of the second fire, a company representative assured residents that their stretch of power line is high on the list for major overhaul.
James and Donna Crawley have a 40-acre spread were they fully embrace the country lifestyle. They now have 21 Angus momma cows and one bull after deciding to reduce the size of their herd. Donna said, “Our cows are more like pets. Reducing our herd was one of the best decisions we ever made because feeding the bigger herd at the old family farmstead during the winter was becoming too much of a challenge.” The Crawleys do, however, still hay at the other site. Other components of their country life include 25 chickens, a few ducks, two horses and four dogs. They also raise fruits, vegetables and flowers.
The Crawleys were one of five landowners affected by the fire, which fortunately cost no lives and destroyed no structures. That fire also modeled the community nature of fire emergencies. James came home from a doctor’s appointment and saw smoke in the area. He hurried about 1/8 of a mile, the closest point to his house, where he found members of the volunteer Strickler Fire Department already at the scene having been alerted by another department member. The firemen were using shovels and leaf blowers.
James said, “I tried to help by focusing on hotspots using a sprayer with water, but that did little good. I was amazed at how efficient their big leaf blowers were in blowing dead leaves back into the fire which then removes the fuel necessary for the fire to spread.”
Meanwhile Donna had taken time off her job at Pinnacle Foods in Fayetteville, Ark., for a dental appointment in nearby Prairie Grove, Ark., when she received a call from Karen Crawley, her sister-in-law. Karen had heard about the fire on her scanner. Donna rushed home and found her house safe and her husband with the firemen. Donna used her small leaf blower to add to the firemen’s efforts.
According to Justin Boyd, a Strickler firefighter, about 50 acres burned in the second fire and the fire departments from Prairie Grove and Farmington as well as the forestry department added to the efforts of the Strickler department in containing that fire.
Justin said, “Years ago people used to burn their land regularly which was a huge help because those forest lands had less debris like dead leaves and brambles. Nowadays most people don’t burn at all. The forestry department will come out and do it for a nominal fee but even that is too much for some, and others don’t want the responsibility of doing it themselves.”
David Stills, vice president of risk management for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and owner of the land where the first fire occurred, said, “The area that burned is really better off now because the fire cleared ground and will encourage new growth. The fire and conditions were too dangerous to just let it burn, but the fire actually did my land some good.” Then he added, “I wasn’t around at the time and am grateful to neighbors and firefighters for protecting the forest and my lands.”
Justin said that the two things landowners can do to help protect themselves are to remove debris like dead leaves away from structures and to call as soon as you see a problem. He explained, “The sooner we get there, the easier the problem is to deal with.”


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