INDIAHOMA, OK (KSWO) – Preparations are underway as officials at the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge are gearing up to burn more than 3,000 acres.
Workers are setting up cones as drop points around the perimeter of the area they will burn tomorrow, August 2. It will help the other crews being sent in by the U.S Fishing and Wildlife Service from all over the state, New Mexico, Maryland, Texas and Minnesota to keep the fire under control. These workers will use drip torches, a mixture of gasoline and diesel, to start the fire. They will start on the north side of the refuge to let the wind spread the fire through the trees and grass. Crews will then monitor the fire 24 hours a day at drop points around the perimeter to make sure it does not spread. They will be there until it goes out later this week.
The controlled burn specialist, Richard Baker, says although it's dangerous to perform the burn this time of the year with the heat, it can help prevent major fires in the future, help the grasslands and provides minerals from the ash to the wildlife.
A controlled routine burn is something Baker has done many times. He says they've been planning this one since March of 2015 when they burned another zone right next to this one. At that time, they realized that area hadn't been burned in many years and put it on the schedule.
"There has been a lot of grass growth. There's still a lot of tree damage from the past couple years of drought and the ice storm," Baker said.
Baker says every burn is vastly important to protect the community and wildlife from an unplanned blaze.
"It's pretty key to the fuel reductions. We wouldn't want this to take off in the conditions we didn't want," Baker said.
Baker said they aren't worried about the burn getting out of control, but if it does spread, the area to the north and east was already burned last spring.
"We will use the patterns to keep the fire intensity under control and then once we've got a good safe area to work from we can start lighting it more intense," Baker said.
Baker says they'll also have dozens of extra hands as workers from all over the country are driving in to work 10-12 hour shifts to help monitor the fire until it's over.
Workers are also always having to look out for groups of wildlife that may be within the area, but Baker says all their animals such as bison, deer or elk are very adapted to fire and they should not be a problem.
"They know their way around fire. Very quickly they will go back through an area and back into the black where it's already burned and you'll see them camped out for the next 2 or 3 weeks there," Baker said.
Baker says the refuge will remain open during the burn, but he wants visitors to be cautious.
"If people see smoke, be aware there was a burn here and it's probably not an issue," Baker said.
Baker says smoke will still be visible for at least a week until the burn is completely out.
The trails such as Elk trail, Dog Run Hollow, Lost Lake and Boulder will be closed until they determine the area is safe.