Outside fires banned amid wildfire threat

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, October 11, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Forestry officials banned outside burning across most of Alabama on Monday because of fast-spreading wildfires, and forecasters said there isn’t enough rain in the forecast to lessen the threat anytime soon. Coleen Vansant, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Forestry Commission, said the fire alert covers 46 of the state’s 67 counties and means no outside fires are allowed in the region.

Officials hoped the order will stem the spread of wildfires in drought-plagued areas of the state, but what’s really needed in precipitation. “It’s going to take substantial rain to lift the alert,” said Vansant.

The agency reported that about 70 blazes burned around 730 acres of land on Sunday alone. The situation is worse in north Alabama, where drought conditions are most severe. The National Drought Mitigation Center reported that 86 percent of Alabama is abnormally dry, and northeast Alabama is particularly hard hit. More than 10 counties in that area are experiencing an extreme drought, and there’s another pocket of extreme drought in east-central Alabama along the Georgia border.

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Statistics show drought conditions are far worse in Alabama this year than in 2015, and National Weather Service meteorologist Connor Baird said the long-range forecast doesn’t show any rain predictions that would reverse the trend.

“That may not happen for a while unfortunately,” he said. “It might be a little while before we get rain.”

Confidence in the rain-free forecasts is reinforced by the fact that October is typically the driest month in Alabama, he said. The Forestry Commission reported that wildfires have burned more than 3,300 hundred acres of land in Alabama in the past week and more than 7,200 acres in the past month. The problem is getting worse quickly, said Vansant.

“Almost half of all the fires that have occurred in the last 30 days were in the last seven days,” she said.