Burn Ban dampens camping this season

More than half the counties in Arkansas are currently under a burn ban because of dry weather conditions, with the number increasing weekly.

As of Nov. 28 the counties in red are in a burn ban.

Although county judges approved the ban, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers recreation sites follow and enforce the ban.

“Burn bans are determined and put in place by the local county judge based off the information he receives from local subject matter experts,” said Scotty Ashlock, natural resource specialist at Lake Dardanelle, Little Rock District USACE. “Our role is to follow and enforces the ban. We don’t add or take away from any of the guidance put out by the forestry commission.”

One of the challenges during the burn ban is that open flames are prohibited. Since fires are a cornerstone of camping and something many families enjoy, rangers thought the ban would disappoint guests.

“Most visitors like to build campfires and sit around with their families, roast hot dogs, s’mores, and tell stories,” Gary Ivy, chief park ranger at Greers Ferry, Little Rock District USACE explained. “Some people may not want to camp if they can’t have a campfire.”

Like Greers Ferry, Ashlock explained how the ban impacts Dardanelle visitors.

“With cool nights, most folks want to build a campfire in the evenings and sit outside,” Ashlock said. “Unfortunately, during the ban they aren’t allowed.”

Interestingly enough, the ban hasn’t lowered the number of people visiting recreations sites. “We haven’t seen a decline at our campgrounds,” Ivy added. “We’ve actually seen an increase in campers this year.”

The same has happened at Dardanelle.

“Burn bans haven’t slowed down visitation,” Ashlock added. “We receive a few complaints about not being able to have a small fire, but most people are very understanding and compliant.”

While it may seem the ban only inconveniences guests, the park rangers have challenges too.

“The main challenge for park rangers is the time and effort it takes to stop and educate park visitors about the burn ban,” Ashlock said. “One of the main issues for visitors is cooking without campfires.”

Luckily guests can cook other ways.

”Gas grills are allowed,” Ashlock said. “We allow cooking with charcoal as long as it is fully contained in an elevated grill, fully extinguished and properly disposed of after use.”

In addition to educating guests park rangers have an even bigger issue on their hands.

“The ban keeps us from doing prescribed burns to enhance timber stands, wildlife habitat, and reduce fuel loading within our parks and timber stands,” Ivy said.

Personnel from Little Rock District conducted a prescribed burn. Currently prescribed burns aren’t allowed in more than half of Arkansas, which keeps park rangers from enhancing timbers stands. (courtesy photo)

Still, the good outweighs the bad.

“There are many positive aspects of a burn ban,” Ashlock said. “Burn bans protect against property damage and most importantly, injury or loss of life.”

In fact since conditions are so dry, one small spark could cause a forest fire.

“With the ban it keeps honest people from building fires that could result in a forest fire,” Ivy said.

Of course under the current conditions, throwing a cigarette on the ground could lead to a fire being started but Ivy explained how people can still smoke.

“Burn bans do not prohibit visitors from smoking but it’s already a violation to dispose of cigarettes on the ground,” Ivy said. “It’s already littering.”

So far burn ban violations haven’t been a problem.

“We haven’t had any issues in our campgrounds with small fires,” Ivy noted. “If an issue arose we would visit ask campers to put the fire out.”

Park rangers take multiple measures to inform guests of the ban it’s still a joint effort between USACE and city officials for enforcement.

“Once a county is placed in a burn ban, we post burn ban signs at the entrance of each park within that county,” Ashlock said. “If a visitor is in violation they can be cited by a park ranger for violation of posted restrictions. Also county and city police regularly patrol all of our parks and officers will issue citations to visitors who violate the burn ban.”

In the event guests are completely unaware of the ban park rangers will usually just give a warning.

“Typically we will warn the campers about having a fire and ask them to put it out,” Ivy said. “If we have to go back to visit with them a second time we will then issue a citation.”

Luckily if a wildfire started the emergency personnel are minutes away.

“If a fire were to escape we would contact the local fire department,” Ashlock said. “All of our parks are within close response time to either a city fire department or rural fire department.

For right now the ban won’t be lifted until conditions improve.

“Until our area receives a substantial amount of rainfall we will remain in a burn ban,” Ivy said.

Park rangers will continue to monitor websites and working with local officials.

We continue to monitor the status of burn bans by viewing the Arkansas Forestry Commission’s website and by staying in contact with local emergency management or sheriff’s office, Ashlock concluded.

For a daily county update on where burn bans are in effect go to

http://www.arkfireinfo.org/

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving was first symbolically marked by Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down together in 1621 to thank God for their survival through a brutal Plymouth winter. It has come to mean so much to our Nation, as family and friends gather to count our many blessings as well as share with those less fortunate among us.

That first American Thanksgiving might seem long ago, but in truth, we are only several generations removed from it. In 1789, President George Washington proclaimed the first National Day of Thanksgiving, and President Abraham Lincoln revived the tradition during the Civil War. Since that time we pause to express thanks for both our bounty of blessings and the freedoms we enjoy, and to spend time with family and friends.

Let’s take this opportunity at Thanksgiving to thank those who are serving today around the world. They are making personal sacrifices to ensure the freedom that we often take for granted.

Likewise, Thanksgiving can also be very dangerous on our roads. Travel to visit family and friends is heavy, making Thanksgiving one of the deadliest holidays in America.
If you are on the road this holiday, please make safety a priority.

Every Thanksgiving, we go through a listing of what we are thankful for. Among other blessings, I am thankful to be part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team,
delivering for our communities and our nation. I hope that you will find many blessing to count this Thanksgiving too.

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

Paul E. Owen, P.E.
Colonel, US Army Corps of Engineers
Commander, Southwestern Division