Stillwater News Press

Local News

April 12, 2014

Red cedars pose significant fire risk

STILLWATER, Okla. — With foliage containing extremely flammable oils, Eastern red cedars seem to be built to add fuel to a fire.

Ingalls Assistant Fire Chief Steve Edwards, a retired Oklahoma State University professor, said it’s comparable to a Christmas tree with needles on the bottom. Dead foliage at the bottom of the tree builds up, catches fire and shoots up the center of the tree.

“It’s an enormous problem because the sap is flammable,” he said.

According to the state forestry department, trees shown “exploding” are actually burning embers carried by wind currents.

Stillwater Fire Department Capt. Greg Connelly traveled with two other firefighters to Reno, Nev., for a Wildlife Urban Interface course in March.

Connelly said the problem in Oklahoma is fighting fires with structures near the interfaces of forests and parks.

Fires often start where the terrain and typography are alongside a home.

When red cedars ignite, embers travel and cause spot fires hundreds of feet in front of the fire, sometimes up to a quarter mile.

“You’ll think you’re doing good fighting the fire,” he said, “until you realize the trees cause the fires to spread across roads and other barriers.”

Connelly said firefighters have several tactics to reduce red cedar fires, but it’s a combined community effort.

One is the help from government programs to assist landowners. With the Firewise program, landowners learn to cut cedars at least 30 feet from a structure and six feet tall.

Firefighters must use specially crafted light-weight wildland gear when the fire line advances when cedars ignite.

Firefighters from Glencoe depend on mutual aid for help during afternoon wildfires that are difficult to battle. Chief Tracy McAlister said the station relies heavily on Ingalls and Stillwater.

The afternoon is also when wildfires have a higher chance of starting.

Cushing Assistant Chief Derek Griffin said the humidity is low during the afternoon.

When it’s hot and dry and there is a concentration of red cedars, fire opportunities increase.

Controlled burns in the spring can reduce Eastern red cedars.

Edwards said there’s no particular strategy for fighting the fires; the problem lies in the quickness that redcedars ignite.

“The global idea is to remove them, specifically away from barns and other structures,” he said.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News