Osage Nation Firefighters say wildfire season in their county has been particularly active this year, mostly due to poor conditions where there is a fine line between a controlled burn and a bad situation.
Burning is necessary when it comes to ranching, but firefighters and ranchers say not every controlled burn always turns out the way they hoped it would during peak wildfire season.
Wildfire season in Oklahoma typically begins around early March and lasts through the end of April on average. During this time, ranchers burn their fields for several reasons. In counties like Osage, there is almost always smoke on the horizon in the spring.
Osage firefighters like Brad Hayman say wildfire season is a tough one to get through in Oklahoma, especially this year.
“This year has been busier,” Hayman said. “We are up to 70 fires for the year, last year we only had 60 for the year, we are way up.”
Firefighters say more often than not, wildfires are a result of already poor conditions that deteriorated, whether that be during a ranch fire or just a kicked-up hot spot.
“Usually it’s because of the weather, high winds, low humidity, and lower temperatures that can start a fire and spread, it can be catastrophic,” Hayman said.
Not all those smoke plumes you see driving through Osage County on a spring day are accidental. In fact, most of them are prescribed burns on ranches.
Taylor Reed is one of those ranchers in northern Osage County where smoke plumes on his land are a weekly occurrence. He burns to get rid of the old dry grass that can be dangerous if accidentally caught on fire. He also burns so the new green grass can grow in for his cattle to eat. Lastly, Reed said he burns to get rid of any invasive species on his ranch. He said strategically setting his land on fire is not only typical, but necessary.
“When you get down to it, the only way we make money is pounds per acre,” Reed said. “Being able to burn and have grass in front of the cattle produces more pounds and that’s why we are in business. We burn because we get rid of last year’s forage and the new forage is nutritious and benefits livestock.”
Reed said the key to that fine line of burning success is keeping safety in mind. Reed told News On 6, “things can get out of hand quickly if the wind changes when you aren’t paying attention and driving heavy equipment in thick smoke is dangerous already.”
He said there have already been far too many wildfires far too close to home this year, so he hopes the season calms down soon.
Osage firefighters say if you are going to burn, whether it be on a large or small scale, make sure you call your local fire department first so they know it is not a wildfire out of control.