SULPHUR, OK-Chickasaw NRA will begin a series of prescribed fires starting in mid-February and lasting until April (depending on weather conditions). The fires will be conducted by a management team consisting of firefighters from Chickasaw NRA, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Meredith NRA, and other National Park Service units. During the burn periods, property owners will be notified about work in their area, and will be advised of any special procedures that would minimize the effects of smoke such as turning off central heat and/or air conditioning units. Firefighter and public safety are the number one priority.
The prescribed fires will burn slash from thinned eastern red cedar cut during the summer and fall of 2010. Native to Oklahoma, eastern red cedar is extremely invasive. The tree species creates a wildfire hazard, displaces other species from the natural ecosystem, impairs local air quality by producing allergens, and contributes to the general decline of the local water table. Under natural conditions eastern red cedar is limited by periodic natural fires. The burns, which will attempt to simulate natural fire conditions, will occur at Arbuckle Dam area along Goddard Road and the Guy Sandy areas of the park.
The burns are a part of the National Park Service's prescribed fire program to help protect local communities from the catastrophic effects of uncontrolled wildland fires while promoting the natural ecosystem's ability to thrive. Prescribed fires improve forest health by promoting nutrient recycling, increasing habitat diversity, and reducing fuels that lead to unwanted, out-of-control wildfires. Habitat improvement from the fires will contribute to increases in species such as deer and turkey and thereby improve hunting opportunities.
Residents near these burn areas also will benefit because the fuel from dead plant material that has accumulated over the years is reduced under controlled conditions. This significantly reduces the threat a wildfire would pose to people and property in and near the park.
Smoke from these prescribed fires may be visible in downtown Sulphur, Davis, Dougherty, Rock Creek, Veterans Lake, Buckhorn areas, Goddard Youth Camp Road, and along Chickasaw Trail but every effort will be made to minimize smoke impacts. Wind direction and upper level mixing of smoke will be utilized in an attempt to eliminate or reduce these inconveniences. If you have health problems that will be aggravated by smoke, we strongly encourage you to call the park for further assistance at 580 622-7220.
Thinning of the eastern red cedar will increase public safety by reducing the hazardous fuel load in the wildland-urban interface and move the ecosystem closer to a natural state. "Last summer, we faced a serious situation with wild fires raging to our north in the Oklahoma City area and to our south in Texas. Murray County was mercifully spared from similar fire threats, in part due to projects such as this one which help to reduce serious fire hazards. We are continuing with this good work and doing our best to achieve similar positive outcomes in 2012 and in the future," said park superintendent Bruce Noble.