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Oklahoma wildfire chat with Assistant State Fire Marshal JoAnne Sellars, August 9, 2012

Below is a transcript of a chat with Assistant State Fire Marshall JoAnne Sellars about recent suspicious wildfires across the state.

Assistant State Fire Marshal JoAnne Sellars will be signing in soon to chat about recent wildfires across Oklahoma. You can start submitting your questions now.
- NewsOK at 12:39

OK, let's get started.
- NewsOK at 13:00

Thanks to JoAnne Sellars for being here with us today to talk about the recent fires.
- NewsOK at 13:00

You're welcome
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:01

OK, let's start off by talking about last weekend. We’ve had several wildfires ignite since Friday. Why is that? Are the temperatures or weather conditions to blame?
- NewsOK at 13:02

There have been a significant number of large wildland fires recently and I am concerned it is going to get worse before it gets better
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:02

There is no one condition that we should look for to blame on the devastation from the accidental wild land fires. It is a combination of things and certainly the extreme dry conditions are a major factor.
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:03

The potential is there for fires across the state with more intensity from the dry conditins and far reacahing fire damage over a greater area.
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:04

I have just been informed by the agent investigating the Cleveland County fire storm from last Friday.
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:04

He has determined that the three fires which started on Cementary Road were deliberately set, this was an act of Arson
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:05

Do they have a person of interest in custody?
- NewsOK at 13:06

At this time the investigation is on going and hopefully in a few more days we might have more information to share with the public
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:07

Do we know at this time what was used to start the Cleveland County fires?
- NewsOK at 13:08

Yesterday another fire in rural Cleveland County was determined to be an act of Arson as well.
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:08

The investigators know but are not ready to share this information now. There is a lot of work invovled with a fire investigation of this magnitude
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:10

Some of the other fires across the state are said to be suspicious too. Any ruling on whether those were deliberately set?
- NewsOK at 13:11

The agency is not involved with the investigation of all these fires, the only other wildland fire the state fire marshal office is investigating is the fire yesterday in Spencer
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:13

At this time the investigation is on-going and no specific are available at this time
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:14

How many wildfires have been investigated so far this year?
- NewsOK at 13:14

The Oklahoma Dept of Emergency Management maintains records on fire data for the state. The OSFM keeps records of fires we have investigated by request from law enforcement and fire service
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:16

Right now the agency has investigated 313 fires this year, most of the fires we investigate are structure fires
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:17

Can you tell us how many homes were damaged or destroyed in the wildfires since Friday? Acres burned?
- NewsOK at 13:19

I have hear over 100 structures and over 76,000 scres. Let's not forget the one fataility from the Cleveland County fire on Friday.
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:20

Since those fires were determined to be acts of arson, could the person responsible for setting them be arrested on a murder complaint?
- NewsOK at 13:22

- JoAnne Sellars at 13:22

What is the estimated damage cost from wildfires so far this year?
- NewsOK at 13:24

I do not have those figures
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:25

Are we seeing more wildfires this year compared to previous years?
- NewsOK at 13:26

But besides the direct damage from the fires it is the loss of resources from fire personnel, law enforcement etc. that are effected
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:26

Wildland fires are not new to Oklahoma in past years there have been extremely large fires in western Oklahoma. The state has experience some good rains but in return that causes vegatation growth and during the extreme very dry conditions this same vegetation dries out and becomes fuel for these fires
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:28

Do you have a dollar amount of loss for the grass fires?
- Guest at 13:30

No, we do not obtained those figures, I suggest to check the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management website
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:31

How do most wildfires ignite? Discarded cigarettes?
- NewsOK at 13:31

My opinion is by human interaction somehow, either accidental or deliberate
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:32

Cigarette get a lot of blames for starting fires but the reality is
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:33

that most if not all cigarettes are "Fire Standard Compliant" and after a few minutes of not draggin on the cigarette the cherry with go out
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:35

I've heard of catalytic converters starting fires in wheat stubble.
- Jim in Plano at 13:35

typically the heat source of a cigarette requires several conditions in order to ignite vegetation; the fuel source must be dry and of fine or powdery substance
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:37

Yes, machinery and vehicles can cause wildfires
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:38

from overheating equipment
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:38

What measures can our state legislators take to ensure that our firefighters have the resources that they need to deal with fires of this magnitude?
- Guest at 13:38

support the needs of the fire service, most of the fire departments throughout the country are volunteer, over 70%, they need all the help they can get
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:40

The men and women who work either paid or volunteer at fire department are dedicated to their community and sometimes these same heros are working with old and outdated equipment, support is so important
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:41

And working in 100-degree temperatures can't be easy. What are some of the health issues firefighters face when battling wildfires?
- NewsOK at 13:42

From the start out the bay doors of the fire station fire fighters are at risk. The profession of a fire fighter comes with many high risk to safety and health from injury and death.
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:43

where can i find local information about evacuations in my area?? pontotoc county
- Guest at 13:45

Contact your county emergency management office
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:46

I would like to expand upon evacuation with a wild land fire, dont forget that utilities may go down as a result of an on-coming fire, so do not count on one means to get evacuation report, be prepared and have a plan in place before a fire threatens your home and family
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:47

Here is a PDF link of all Emergency Management Directors in Oklahoma.
- NewsOK at 13:48

Should residents water their yards or nearby trees if they know conditions are ripe for wildfires?
- NewsOK at 13:50

Moisture content is a good idea on lawns and plants, tree branches should be far off from the ground and if not cut the low branches off from the tree,
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:52

Remove combustibles such as wood piles, remove leaves from gutters, use metal skirting on mobile homes, keep the grass cut short, remove any vegetation that is flammable
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:53

Excellent questions today. We'll wrap the chat up with one more.
- NewsOK at 13:56

I understand watering our lawns would be benifical to possibly stoping a wildfire from entering our property but if there their regularting watering how are we to do that?
- Jacquelin Durham at 13:57

Remember fire can happen anywhere at any time, the difference is in rural areas there is more open land with vegetation, trees, grasslands, crops for the most part, in Oklahoma. The potential is there for a wild land fire, people have to be more care during these extreme and very dry conditions.
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:57

I would rather get a citation for watering my property when trying to protect it from fire
- JoAnne Sellars at 13:59

Jacquelin, you could also remove wood piles, leaves from gutters and make sure the grass is short. JoAnne talked about how this might help too.
- NewsOK at 14:00

OK, we're going to wrap this up. Thanks again to JoAnne Sellars and those who submitted questions. For more information about wildfires, check the Oklahoma Fire Marshal website at
- NewsOK at 14:02

Thank you for having me.
- JoAnne Sellars at 14:03

Tiffany Gibson

Tiffany Gibson has worked for The Oklahoman since August 2011 and is a member of the enterprise team and digital desk. In addition to writing and web editing, she creates interactive features for and assists with data visualization and... Read more ›