From Sheila Doughty

FireWise Information director

Highway 110/Old Lexington firefighters worked last year to complete a large-scale wildfire prevention effort across their fire district with the Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC). On May 2 the hard work paid off and they were recognized as a National Firewise community. The AFC Firewise program is a nationally recognized wildfire safety effort that works with communities at a local level. As part of recognition requirements, Highway 110 VFD crew members completed wildfire safety assessment surveys on structures in their fire district, and developed a Community Wildfire Preparedness Plan, which outlines wildfire mitigation projects and concerns in the next 5-year window (residents may request a copy).

"The Arkansas Forestry Commission is proud of this fire department so willing to make wildfire prevention a part of local concerns," said Kevin Kilcrease, Firewise Coordinator. Kilcrease said Highway 110 joins 249 other Arkansas fire departments who have taken part in the Firewise program.

The primary mission of the Firewise initiative is to improve a community’s defensible space, or the area closest to homes (up to 300 feet from structures) that should be treated for wildfire-resistance. Highway 110 firefighters have visited homes, listened to homeowner concerns and distributed safety information at various events this year. They also are working on a plan to create added defensible space around local residences. The fire department will receive a $3,500 grant to fund wildfire equipment and training through participation with Arkansas Firewise.

What are the primary wildfire concerns for residents in the Highway 110/Old Lexington Fire District and the surrounding Van Buren County area – and very importantly, what can homeowners do to help firefighters make homes safer?

• Spacing between Vegetation and Homes: The area up to 30 feet and the area 30-300 feet from homes should contain lean, clean and green vegetation of all kinds – this includes landscaping, grass, trees and shrubbery. Keep the grass mowed short and provide water, making it resistant to fire embers. Trim trees so that limbs do not touch the roof, windows or deck areas; also work to keep limbs trimmed at least six feet up from the ground so that a small surface fire is not transferred to treetops.

• Think of the yard as a primary defense against wildfire.

• Be mindful of burn bans and high fire weather: Though it’s not always convenient for homeowners during burn bans, they are declared by county judges when conditions are too dangerous to burn.

• Mailbox lettering: It’s easy enough for firefighters to find a home when smoke is billowing from all sides, however, it becomes very difficult to locate emergencies and possible victims in the middle of the night or during rain when nature has no way of pinpointing a scene.