TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) — As the Memorial Day weekend drew to a close, Arkansas was at a moderate risk of wildfires and 15 counties were under burn bans.
On Sunday, a wildfire burned about 100 acres in Texarkana, where officials say the cause was likely accidental.
Texarkana Fire Battalion Chief Ginger Lee said conditions are so dry that it doesn’t take much for a wildfire to start. The fire broke out at about 4:40 p.m. Sunday and crews needed about three hours to bring the blaze under control. No one was hurt and no homes were burned, but a barn was destroyed.
Lee said the crews tried to protect the barn for as long as possible, but had to abandon that effort once the fire began threatening homes.
"The residence comes before a barn," Lee told the Texarkana Gazette.
The Arkansas Forestry Commission says the entire state is under a moderate danger of wildfires, a result of the recent hot and dry weather. The agency uses for classifications for wildfire danger — low, moderate, high and extreme. Most counties under burn bans are in north-central Arkansas.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows northeast Arkansas in a moderate drought, while almost all the rest of the state is abnormally dry. In far south Arkansas, a crescent of land that includes Magnolia and El Dorado isn’t covered by the dryness distinction.
"Irrigation preparation should be at the top of the ‘to-do’ list as we move into weeks of 90-plus degree weather and little rain in the forecast," said Tom Barber, extension cotton agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Southwest Arkansas was particularly hard hit in last year’s drought. Ranchers scrambled to find hay for their cattle and many sold their livestock early because of the lack of water and forage.
Cotton growers in east Arkansas are noticing the lack of rain, as many of their young plants are struggling.
Cotton crop is starting to develop problems with tobacco thrips, a pest that healthy plants can withstand. But younger, drought-stressed cotton plants need pesticides to beat back the insect. The expense isn’t easily borne by producers, who are facing high fuel and fertilizer costs and sub-par prices for cotton.
"When cotton is healthy, it can usually outgrow thrips, but this year, the slow-growing cotton has forced many growers to make multiple pesticide applications to control thrips," said Gus Lorenz, extension entomologist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. "To make the situation worse, we have western flower thrips that are harder to kill."
Barber said proper irrigation can limit drought stress.
"Keep in mind that this crop may have a shallow root system from early season stresses," Barber said. "In the fields where the taproots are permanently damaged from cool soil temperatures and seedling disease, timely irrigation will be critical."
Information from: Texarkana Gazette, http://www.texarkanagazette.com