Wildfire danger lingers in area

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Fire officials are continuing to urge area residents againstburning trash, leaves and other debris until weather conditionsimprove because “the danger of wildfires is real.”

“What we’re seeing is humidity in the low 20s, which isuncharacteristic of Mississippi,” said Dale Brown, information andsafety officer with the Mississippi Forestry Commission. “And thefires we’re responding to are exhibiting more fierce fire behaviorand are much more difficult to put out.”

The dry condition of the county, referred to in previous weeksas a tinderbox, is also causing fires to reignite, sometimes hoursafter they’ve been extinguished. Topeka Volunteer Fire Department,for instance, was called to the same grass fire three timesThursday.

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Weather conditions also prompted the National Weather ServiceThursday to issue an internal Fire Weather Watch to the MFC. Itcited previous conditions coupled with a drop in humidity to thelow 20s as reasons for concern.

The NWS canceled that internal advisory Friday afternoon asrelative humidity increased into the low 30s.

The internal memo was taken very seriously by the MFC, Brownsaid.

“That’s the first time in my memory, in more than 25 years here,that the weather service has issued an advisory for our district,”he said.

More than 402 acres was burned during 17 fires on Thursday thatthe MFC responded to in its 14-county district, Brown said. Thosefigures do not include fires handled by full-time and volunteerfire departments without MFC assistance.

More than 724 acres have burned in 48 fires already this month,Brown said. In October, more than 1,277 acres were burned during106 fires. Lincoln County logged 32 of those fires, accounting for530 acres, and Lawrence County logged 15 of them for 160 acresburned.

“A lot of the fires we’re going to are where people wanted tomake a small fire just to get something out of the way,” Brownsaid. “This is not a good time to be doing that. It’s dry out thereand even though it may not seem windy, a fire can create its ownwind and become difficult to control.”

Wednesday, the MFC did more to address the problem.

“We have ceased issuing any burning permits until conditionsimprove,” he said.

Permits are normally granted for agricultural and forestrycontrolled burns, mainly in the timber industry. The burns helpclear the ground for the planting of pines, a season that isquickly approaching.

“We hate to interfere with people’s progress, but we also hatefor them to burn more acres than they intended,” Brown said.

He did not know when the ban on burning permits would be lifted,he said, because it would depend on when weather conditionsimprove. Conditions could change quickly with an “appreciativerainfall.”