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Fire rates higher than usual

By By MICHELE GERLACH
Publisher
The southwest region of Alabama traditionally has more wildfires than the rest of the state, but this year, the numbers are even higher, probably because Hurricane Ivan left plenty of fuel on the forest floor.
In the five-county area that includes Mobile, Baldwin, Washington, Escambia and Conecuh counties, forested areas represent 12 percent of the state's forestry resources.
However, the area generally has more than its fair share of fires. Over the past five years, the five-county area has had 20 percent of the state's forest fire. Those fires burned 30 percent of the total acres burned in the entire state.
This year's numbers are much higher, said Stanley R. Anderson, of the Fire Prevention division of the Alabama Forestry Commission, adding that he believes the increase is attributable to the amount of fuel left on the forest floor when Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf Coast last September.
In the first three months of this year, forest fires in the five-county region have represented 30 percent of the state's fires and 41 percent of all the acres burned in Alabama.
Last weekend, fires ravaged approximately 1,000 acres of land in Escambia County.
Foresters are having difficulty suppressing fires because the volume of fuel on the forest floor has increase and because some fire lines and roads have not been cleaned since the storm, it's almost impossible for foresters to get into forests to fight the fire.
In an effort to arrest the problem, Anderson said, foresters are advising landowners to clean out fire breaks and open the roads into their property.
Landowners who had 20 percent or more of their forest areas damaged may sign up with the Alabama Forestry Commission for help.
The Forestry Commission can also assist landowners who need to build new fire breaks. For a fee, the commission can construct permanent and temporary fire breaks, or conduct prescribed burns.
Foresters also will visit property and advise landowners on the best way to deal with debris in the forest.
For assistance with property, contact the Forestry Commission in Escambia County by calling 867-7798. To report a forest fire in Escambia, Conecuh, Monroe, or Baldwin counties, call 1-800-672-3076.
In an effort to minimize problems caused by fires, the Forestry Commission has increased its budget for aerial detection, Anderson said.