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County fire numbers increase

By By MARY-ALLISON LANCASTER – Managing editor
Fire season is in full swing in Escambia County. Randy Cannon with the Alabama Forestry Commission said that his crews have already fought more than 60 fires. The season officially began in January and will continue through the winter months.
Last fiscal year, Escambia County had about 48 fires. The county has been rated among the top 10 hottest counties in the state for the past three to four years, even with the 48 reported fires.
It appears the county will remain in the top 10 this year, because statistics show that Escambia County has surpassed that fiscal year number in just two months.
In January of this year, 27 fires were reported in Escambia County and Cannon said that it looks like February's figures are going to be pretty close to January. The cause appears to be lack of rain, wind and low humidity. Of course, Cannon said, debris is still playing a major role in the fires in the county.
A majority of the fires appear to be incendiary – or deliberately set – Cannon said. He could not discuss details, but did say he and investigators are working hard on several fire cases to determine who caused some of the fires in the area.
In many past years, Escambia County averaged about 300 fires a year. Cannon, who has been with the AFC since 1989, said that he used to see about 100 fires in a fiscal year. However, that number appears to be dwindling down.
Cannon also attributes Smokey Bear classes that educate children on fire safety, and the rising numbers of leased land.
With the help of grants provided through federal departments, the AFC recently purchased a new bulldozer truck and tractor unit. This brings the number up to two total units and allows the AFC to cover more grounds. The effects of Hurricane Ivan allowed for the federal assistance since Escambia County was the heaviest hit.
However, with the amount of fires building up, Cannon said he still has to rely heavily on surrounding fire departments and other county departments to assist. The AFC used to have four units but as with age comes deterioration and two of the trucks were lost to old age. Cannon said he's not sure if the AFC will ever get back up to four units.
There are currently no burn bans issued. The state forester is the only person who can declare a burn ban and that's usually under extreme conditions. Once a burn ban is in effect, the AFC will discontinue issuing burn permits.
Historically, March is the worst month for fires. Cannon resisted making a numerical prediction for the amount of fires he will see for fear that individuals would take it upon themselves to try and set fires if the department falls short of the prediction.
Cannon just advises people to be aware of the burn risks and follow fire safety. For more information on how to protect yourself and surrounding areas visit AFC's Web site at www.forestry.state.al.us. To report a wildfire or obtain a burn permit, call 1-800-672-3076.