Wildfire alert issued here

Published 6:00 am Friday, March 26, 2004

Fire officials have not issued a burn ban here but areencouraging area residents to delay burning of debris, trash orpastures until weather conditions improve.

The Mississippi Forestry Commission did announce Thursday,however, that they have ceased to issue burn permits.

The MFC announcement came after the state office issued awildfire alert for this area Wednesday.

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Since March 1, approximately 800 wildfires have burned more than16,000 acres statewide, mostly in the southern half of the state.In the Southwest District, which includes The DAILY LEADER’sreadership area, approximately 165 fires have been reported,resulting in 3,739 acres lost.

“We’re asking people to hold off until we get some rain inhere,” said Dale Brown, information and safety officer for theMFC’s Southwest District. “We strongly recommend they delay anyoutdoor burning.”

Brown said 90 percent of the fires that have been stretchingemergency response teams thin during the past weeks have beenhuman-caused.

“The human element is what is really causing these fires,” hesaid. “Debris burning accounts for most of it, but there is somearson.”

What makes the situation so dangerous, Brown said, is theapparent emergence of spring has people “lured into a false senseof security.”

“We are in a transition period, and it looks deceptive outthere,” he said. “It looks like spring with everything blooming,but there is still a lot of winter kills out there to fuel afire.”

Add to that mix recent warm weather that tempts people to begintheir spring cleaning, and trouble looms, Brown said.

“They’ve got energized to work in the yard or garden or clean upa fence row by the warm weather and the desire to be outside, butthere’s still a lot of fuel out there. When combined with lowhumidity, when even green grass will burn, and March winds, you canvery easily have a problem. The potential for an extreme wildfireis out there.”

The MFC wildfire alert gave the Southwest District a rating ofVery High for wildfire potential.

“Fires are starting easily from any source of ignition,”according to the alert. “Once started, fires are quick to spreadand rapidly increase in intensity.”

Although the area has been spared so far from any especiallylarge or damaging wildfires, it is the frequency of the fires thatis causing problems, he said.

“The volunteer fire departments have been stretched thin, andour resources have been going after it for a few weeks now. They’retired,” Brown said. “There’s a good chance when people call 911that our resources are already committed to another project. Therecould be a delay in response times.”

People often take for granted when burning debris that shouldthey lose control of the fire, their local volunteers can respondin moments to help. What they need to remember, he said, is thatthe volunteers have full-time jobs they must leave to respond to afire. The frequency of recent fires may have kept some fromfulfilling their employment responsibilities, and this puts them inan awkward position when another alarm goes out.

Additionally, Brown said, people need to be aware that theperson who sets a debris or trash fire is responsible for them.Should the fire escape their control, they are liable for anydamage it may cause.

“The consequences could be quite expensive,” he said. “If youset it, it’s your fire.”

Dry weather conditions are expected to continue into April withsteady to gusting winds and low humidity, according to thealert.