With worsening drought conditions throughout the state raising concerns about grass and wild fires, Sen. Jeff Rabon has asked Gov. Brad Henry to expand the special session call to provide emergency funding for fire fighting for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division.
“This really is an emergency—especially in southeastern Oklahoma where the drought conditions are approaching historic levels. This is a potentially deadly situation that could result in the loss of lives and millions of dollars in damages,” said Rabon, D-Hugo.
Just this week the United States Department of Agriculture declared 75 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties to be agricultural disaster areas because of the drought. That clears the way for low-interest emergency loans for farmers and ranchers but does nothing to address the additional cost of fighting fires that may result from the severe drought conditions.
“There’s a special scale for measuring drought conditions called the Keetch Byrum Drought Index (KBDI) that goes from 1 to 800. Any KBDI measurement over 450 is considered pretty bad. Right now in McCurtain County, it is approaching 700. I cannot stress how potentially dangerous this situation is,” Rabon said. “It is vitally important for Gov. Henry to address this problem now.”
The current situation has been made even worse because of the extremely high numbers of arson fires that have been set in southeastern Oklahoma and particularly McCurtain County, an area where timber is one of the region’s largest industries.
“There simply is not adequate funding available to deal with the fire danger we’re facing. This is also a potential economic crisis for this region of the state. If we lose significant amounts of timber because of fires then we could see mills shut down throwing people out of work and starting a domino effect that could impact other businesses and jobs in the area.”
Rabon noted Gov. Henry had already expanded the special session call to include funding for Centennial Projects.
“He obviously considers centennial projects to be important enough to be considered during the special session. I’d say emergency funding to fight fires is a much more pressing need right now,” Rabon said. “Whether it comes from the Rainy Day Fund or another source, I strongly urge the Governor to add this critical need to the special session call.”