Drought prompts statewide fire ban

Published 9:43 pm Thursday, September 23, 2010

Firefighters with the Alabama Forestry Commission are “basically sitting on ready” in Pike and surrounding counties since the state was placed under a statewide fire alert on Thursday.

Mack Prince, management forester for the work unit based in Troy, said firefighters in his unit had battled “four or five fires in the last three days in Barbour and Bullock counties, including one on the Pike, Bullock and Montgomery county line.

“That’s pretty active for this part of the country.”

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Extremely dry weather conditions led State Forester Linda S. Casey to issue a statewide fire alert on Thursday, restricting outdoor burning in all 67 counties. In the last 30 days, 459 wildfires have occurred in Alabama, burning approximately 4,743 acres of land. By comparison, only six wildfires were reported in September 2009.

“We’re in drought conditions,” Prince said. ‘We haven’t gotten any amount of rain to account for anything, and the grass and trees are getting ready to shut down for the fall. The moisture level is going down in the grass and trees, and things can ignite easily.”

Hazards such as a piece of metal dragging beneath a vehicle or a spark flying from a tossed match can quickly ignite a wildfire, he said. “And the fires are behaving erratically, mostly because of the lower moisture content.

“In June, something that wouldn’t start a fire would (start one) now.”

“The lack of rain and unseasonably high temperatures have left much of the state extremely dry, creating high risk potential for devastating wildfire,” Dan Jackson, AFC Protection Division Director, said in a release. “With no significant rainfall in more than a month, many Alabama counties are experiencing an increase in wildfire occurrence. Although the official start of fall ‘fire season’ in Alabama is not until October under normal conditions, the extremely dry weather this year has brought it on much sooner. Conditions are such that any fire can quickly spread out of control, not only resulting in damage to our forests but also threatening and destroying homes.”

Prince said forestry officials are asking residents to curtail outdoor burning. “We’re not talking about your barbecues. We’re talking about trash piles and little piles of leaves you might burn … no bonfires, no camp fires. Don’t burn up your feed bags; just carry them back to the house,” he said.

And Prince cautioned that electric fences and harvesting equipment, both common on farms, were potential fire hazards. “Electric fences can easily start fires, and with harvesting equipment, if a bearing goes out or something goes flying across the grass, it gets burning so quick you can’t get it out and before you know it you have to call us for help,” he said. “We are just asking folks to be cautious and careful.”

Prince said the state likely would remain under the fire alert until weather conditions eased. “I’d say until we get at least three inches of rain … so we may stay in this for a while.”