OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As the threat of wildfires increases across Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry is offering additional tips to ranchers.

Current fire weather and fuels analytics indicate extreme fire danger in the Oklahoma Panhandle and northwestern Oklahoma into west-central Oklahoma.

“Forecasts are indicating that Wednesday’s wildfire event could likely be one order of magnitude greater than the 1,000+ acre fires we saw last Friday,” said Mark Goeller, State Forester and Director of Oklahoma Forestry Services. “We will again preposition OFS wildland firefighting resources to be prepared to respond to new fires that could eventually exceed 10,000 acres in size.”

Now, the ODAFF is encouraging ranchers to take special precautions to protect their livestock.

Before a wildfire

  • Maintain detailed livestock records: You should have possible indemnity payments, records should be backed up in multiple locations, and include the location of animals and fences on your property.
  • Use clearly distinguishable identification methods: Make sure animals have some form of permanent identification, and save pictures of animals.
  • Employ land use practices that discourage fire spread: Limit weeds, debris, and highly flammable trees and bushes in fencerows. Also, remove woody debris piles and non-native species that may not be suited for your environment. During times of high fire danger, practice general fire prevention.

During a wildfire

  • Ensure the safety of your family and self
  • Allow for animal movement: Open gates, cut fences, or herd livestock into areas of lower fire risk.
  • Proactively corral animals and be prepared for movement: If you have a vehicle designated for moving livestock, consider having it hitched in a position to quickly load and evacuate animals. However, you should only consider this option if you have ample time.
  • Communicate with neighbors and/or first responders: If animals are left on your property, let neighbors and first responders know to be looking for them.
  • Use emergency identification methods: If animals are set loose, you can be creative with short-term identification methods. Some producers use spray paint to add personal identification markets to animals set loose during a wildfire.

After a wildfire

  • Document livestock losses: Take pictures of dead livestock where they lay, document the location of the livestock, and do not move livestock until given the OK by insurance or local authorities.
  • Practice safe and humane euthanasia methods: Animals may be severely injured in a wildfire and need to be humanely euthanized. Work with local officials to determine the safest and best way to do so.
  • Dispose of carcasses: After documentation, check with local authorities about disposal methods.
  • Accept emotional or mental health assistance: Seek out help for dealing with emotional stress, and understand the grieving process is natural.
  • Apply for federal assistance: Federal assistance related to wildfire losses may be available depending on the incident. Contact your local extension agent or FSA office.

If you have a farm without animals, there are still some things you should do before a wildfire breaks out.

Before a wildfire

  • Practice proper rangeland management: Clear brush and debris, limit growth and spread of highly volatile plants, and keep fence rows and ditches from being overgrown with weeds, trees or bushes.
  • Store equipment in safe locations: Store fuel, chemicals, tractors, trucks, and other flammable equipment on ground that is fire resistant. Maintain a fire resistant plot for this purpose.
  • Keep up-to-date records: Maintain equipment, chemical, and hay/forage inventories, take updated pictures of farm equipment and structures, and back up your records in a digital location.
  • Protect hay or forage supplies: Do not store all of your hay, forage, or feed in the same location. Much like your home, create a defensible space around any barns or feed storage structures. Also, limit weed and grass growth around hay stored outdoors.
  • Alter day-to-day activities: Avoid burning on days with high fire danger, and do not use welders during windy and dry conditions. If you are burning, take precautions to create fire breaks and let your local fire department know.

During a wildfire

  • Listen to local officials: If an evacuation order is given, leave immediately. After evacuation, let firefighters know about any potential hazardous materials on your property that may be impacted by fire – such as farm chemicals, diesel, pressurized cylinders, or highly combustible materials such as hay or forage. 
  • Move equipment: If time permits, equipment can be moved to ground that is either fire-resistant or concrete. 
  • Assist with water access: Rural firefighting efforts often struggle with access to adequate water supply. Notify first responders in advance of accessible fill sites on your property. 
  • Build fire breaks: If it can be done safely, creating fire breaks on your property using a plow, disc, or other implement can slow or stop the spread of fire. Only do this if spread rates are somewhat predictable.

After a wildfire

  • Contact your insurance agent for farm related losses. 
  • Take pictures and document damage to equipment, crops, or structures: After a fire, take pictures noting the date, time, and location that the damage occurs. In a widespread incident, it may be several days before insurance adjusters can make individual visits – pictures create ground truth for what happened and when. 
  • Be careful moving damaged structures or burned hay: Wooden structures that have been damaged or destroyed by a wildfire may smolder for days or weeks after the initial fire is over. Moving or removing hay that has been tightly stacked can lead to reignition once bales are exposed to oxygen. 
  • Determine eligibility for federal assistance: Federal assistance related to wildfire losses may be available depending on the scope of the incident. This information will be available from your local extension agent or FSA office.