Drought conditions dangerous

Published 12:08 am Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The lack of rainfall throughout Alabama has prompted officials to warn of the increased risk of fire.

The most recent report by the U.S. Drought Monitor shows Covington County is experiencing three separate drought conditions. In the northeastern portion of the county in the Rose Hill area, residents are experiencing a severe drought. The condition lessens slightly in the middle portion of the county from the county line above Gantt down to Florala to a “moderate drought” conditions, and the southwestern portion of the county near Wing is shown as “abnormally dry.”

A local U.S. Forest Service agent said when drought codes are high, so is the increased chance of forest fires.

“You would just about expect some fire behavior (locally) because the whole Southeast is under drought conditions,” the agent said. “Fields are very, very dry. It is very easy to start a fire without intending to, because it doesn’t take much of a spark to start a fire. Those working outside – from people doing regular lawn maintenance to farmers bush hogging in the fields – need to pay attention.”

Chuck Simon, Auburn Extension agent, said it’s imperative the county receive some rainfall within the next two weeks.

“We’ve not hit critical mass yet,” Simon said. “Another couple of weeks of this same kind of weather though, and things will start to look bad. We’ve had five weeks without any rain.

“Those leaves that are falling off the trees, that’s because of the drought, not because of fall,” he said. “The one silver lining is that this heat is pushing the hurricanes up north.”

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.”

In the last seven days, there have been 121 wildfires burning more than 1,200 Alabama acres. Thankfully, none of those acres were located in Covington County; however, year to date records show 10 wild fires have destroyed 91.6 acres.

State law requires a burn permit before burning any woodland, grassland, field or wood debris greater than a quarter acre or within 25 feet of flammable material. Property owners should be sure to clear down to mineral soil around the area to be burned; and have enough tools, equipment and manpower to effectively control the fire.

“Once started, stay with the fire until it is completely out,” Casey said.

To obtain a burn permit, call 1-800-242-2504.