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Tuesday, September 16, 2014, 8:34 p.m.
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States develop site for area-based wildfire risks

By Kenneth Heard

This article was published July 31, 2014 at 4:21 a.m.

The Arkansas Forestry Commission has joined 12 other southern states in developing a website that provides information about wildfire risk based upon the terrain, vegetation and landscape characteristics.

The Southern Group of State Foresters created the Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal, or SouthWRAP, that allows residents to learn how wildfires might affect their areas. The website, which officials said is the first of its kind in the United States, is www.southernwildfirerisk.com.

Data used by the site was compiled by forestry officials and satellite imagery in the 13 southern states over eight years, said Adriane Barnes, a spokesman for the Arkansas Forestry Commission.

"There are several layers of data that have never before been available," Barnes said. "You can go in, generate a map of high risk areas for wildfires and see what the risk is for your community."

The site does not include current-time information about wildfire potentials. The Arkansas Forestry Commission's website at www.arkfireinfo.org does provide current wildfire danger assessments and county burn bans.

Residents can use the new website similar to the way they'd use a Google Maps interface, she said. They can enter a physical address to generate a wildfire risk for that area. Professional users such as civic planners, forestry and fire responders, community groups and elected officials can also use the site to generate in-depth reports.

Barnes said the Southern Group of State Foresters meets yearly and shares information.

"It gives us a chance to learn about what other states are doing," she said.

The other states in the group are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are also members of the group.

Arkansas generally sees two elevated wildfire seasons, Barnes said. Usually, fire risks are the highest in March and in August, but because of an abnormally large amount of rainfall so far this year, wildfires have been less of a problem than usual.

Barnes said the commission delayed hiring contract pilots by two weeks because of the rainfall amounts. Normally, pilots begin flying on Aug. 1 to check for wildfires in remote, wooded areas. This year, Barnes said, they won't begin until Aug. 15.

"It's been a very odd year in terms of wildfires this year," she said.

She said because of the abated fire danger this fall, firefighters will likely be able to present more educational programs about wildfire safety to area schools.

State Desk on 07/31/2014

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