PULASKI COUNTY, Ark. — The Arkansas forestry commission is taking to the sky to fight fires. According to the State Forester Joe Fox, contracted Single Engine Air Tankers or SEATs have been used in 10 fires since Sunday.
A video posted by the West Pulaski Fire Department showed a SEAT using pouring its payload over the forest in Ferndale Wednesday morning.
The action prevented a structure fire from spreading that had already consumed one home. Thankfully, no one was injured.
On the other side of this water line, Randy Fletcher’s father is safe from an all-consuming blaze just one yard away.
“I’ve known them for a long time, and it just breaks our heart to see something like this happen,” Fletcher said of his longtime neighbors.
Looking around he said, “Out here it is so dry it’s unbelievable.”
Twelve fire departments worked for hours to end the house fire and limit the risk to the surrounding woods.
“That fire sparked into the fire, into the woods, and that’s when they called us out to build a line,” recalled Joe Fox, Director of the Arkansas Division of Forestry.
The Arkansas Forestry Division makes the decision on when and where to deploy single-engine air tankers. Typically, the State Forester Joe Fox contracts two planes through August and September, but they started a week early this year, and he admits they may end up working later into the year.
“We are really behind on rain right now,” Fox stated.
Before 2022, Arkansas had nine straight years wet years. Fox explained all-time records broke for the lowest number of fires and the lowest number of acres burned three different times in the last nine years, and the Arkansas Division of Forestry has been keeping track of these records for 90 years.
“We haven’t had a drought like this since 2012,” Fox stated adding it will take more than a rainstorm or two to prevent the wildfire risk from becoming extreme in some areas.
“Just to be really honest we could use one of those storms with names that come in off the gulf,” Fox said. “In 2012, that’s what ended that drought for us.”
Until relief arrives, they urge us to do our part to prevent fires, so they can do theirs.
Fletcher said, “This could have gotten really nasty real quick, and had a serious problem. A lot worse than what we got.”
When stating the SEATs were used 10 times in just four days, Fox stated he suspects they will be used a lot more than that going forward.