Rain arrives to help fight dry conditions

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 6, 2009

Before the rain began to fall Sunday night, Mississippi ForestryCommission officials said conditions in Lincoln County and thesurrounding areas had reached a possibly disastrous state.

“In these conditions, water alone won’t stop these fires,” saidLincoln County Forestry Association President Howard Stogner.”We’re looking at western wildfire standards here.”

Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey said the last timeBrookhaven got a notable amount of condensation was, to his bestrecollection, more than a month ago – if not before.

“The last time we had a significant rain was at least the firstfew days of June,” he said.

Stogner said the Keetch-Byram drought index (KBDI), whichestimates the dryness of the soil and is measured on a scale ofzero to 800, was around 700 last Wednesday.

“It was at 704 last Wednesday, so it’s probably in the mid-700stoday,” he said Sunday.

Meanwhile, conditions have been so dry, Stogner said, that treeswith grafted root systems can actually pass a burn underground.When the fire gets into the roots, he said, it can burn straightthrough to another tree even if they don’t seem to be touchinganywhere else.

And it’s not just the fire that causes problems for thevegetation, he said. Trees have started a process where theysomewhat hibernate to protect themselves from lack of water, hesaid.

“The droughts have really taken a toll, and we’ve really beenpraying for rain,” he said. “A lot of these hardwood trees havebeen losing so much water that even though they’re still green,they’re shutting down from the drought.”

The lack of rain kept area fire departments running all weekend.One controlled burn got out of hand and plagued Hog Chain VolunteerFire Department all weekend, firefighters said.

“We’ve been out here six times so far,” said Hog ChainVice-President Shane Carlisle. “I’m tired.”

The burn on Sidney Trail brought volunteers from Hog Chain,Bogue Chitto and East Lincoln fire departments out seven timesthrough the weekend. Stogner said even the forestry commission’sbest efforts were having a hard time keeping it under wraps.

“This was a brush pile that got away Friday, and because of theextreme drought, we’ve had to use two bulldozers and I don’t knowhow many firefighters to try to contain it,” he said.

Loyd Star Volunteer Fire Department was another department thatfound themselves battling a large grass fire over the weekend.

Chief Mark Porter said he hopes the rain that followed theweekend will stay for a few days. He also cited the work severaldepartments have had to do on the Interstate 55 corridor.

“I hope we get about two days worth of it, and maybe all thisburning down the interstate will come to an end now,” he said. “Ithink it’s burnt from Jackson to the Louisiana line in the last fewweeks, it’s been so dry.”

Porter also offered sage advice for people who think they cancontrol even a small burn when conditions are as dry as they havebeen in recent months.

“Don’t do it, it’s not hard for an ember to be caught up by thewind and set another fire when it’s that dry,” he said. “The topsof trees are dry, ground’s dry, everything’s dry. I hope this rainstays with us a while.”