Officials: Dry weather dangerous

Published 4:01 am Wednesday, September 22, 2010

With little rain in the forecast, the Alabama Forestry Commission is encouraging residents to use caution when burning outdoors.

“The conditions are very favorable for wildfires,” Escambia County Emergency Management Director David Adams said. “Together with the fact that we have only had a trace of rain in the last month, everyone should be keeping a watchful eye.”

Madeline Hildreth, the Escambia County manager with the Forestry Commission, said that with the combination of low humidity and high heat, conditions could change.

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“We have been lucky that we haven’t had fire alerts and really the number of wildfires has been down,” she said. “The administration is monitoring drought conditions. At this time they are requesting landowners use extreme caution when burning. If things get worse, I am sure they could issue a fire alert.”

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report puts Escambia County in the “abnormally dry” range for this time of year, although much of the state is in a drought.

The National Weather Service, in its latest forecast, is predicting the weather is going to continue to be hot and dry at least until the last of next week.

In the last seven days, there have been 121 wildfires burning over 1,200 Alabama acres. Alabama state law requires a burn permit before you burn any woodland, grassland, field, or wood debris greater than 1/4 acre or within 25 feet of any flammable material.

As of Tuesday, there had been 51 state wildfires burning a total of 350.10 acres; in the last seven days, 202 wildfires with a total of 2,336.70 acres; the last 30 days, 391 wildfires with a total of 3,789.55 acres and in the year to date, 1,736 wildfires and 22,120 acres. In the last 24 hours in Escambia County there has been one wildfire involving 4.50 acre; in the last seven days, two wildfires and 5.00 acres; in the last 30 days, five wildfires and 11.20 acres; and in the year to date, 50 wildfires and 551.06 acres.

“At this time, the Alabama Forestry Commission has not issued any restricted burning orders for the state. However, we urge everyone to use extreme caution with all debris burning and outdoor fire, including campfires,” said State Forester Linda Casey. “The little amount of rain we’ve received this summer and existing dry conditions could potentially contribute to extremely hazardous wildfire behavior.”

Hildreth said there are various fire alerts which restrict burning permits.

“The Alabama Forestry Commission can issue a fire alert, when weather conditions are such that there is an abnormal number of wildfires,” she said. “A drought emergency can be issued by the governor when a fire alert fails to control the situation; the National Weather Service can issue a ‘red flag warning’ for specific areas where conditions indicate a high fire danger potential; a summer burning restriction can be issued by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which doesn’t allow open burning; and a national forest may be closed or restricted by the USDA Forest Service.”

Cities and towns are keeping a weather watch also. Brewton has a permanent “no burn” law within the city limits, and Atmore has recently issued a burn ban.

Atmore Fire Chief Gerry McGhee said the ban came on Sept. 13 after several weeks of no rain.

“The weather is so dry now, there is a lot of danger when it comes to fires,” McGhee said. “Fires can easily become dangerous and get out of hand.”