MFC monitoring wildfire risk in Lincoln County

Published 3:30 pm Thursday, June 20, 2024

BROOKHAVEN — Volunteer fire departments and the Mississippi Forestry Commission responded to 64 wildfires in Lincoln County from July 1, 2023 to date burning 1,162 acres. The figures do not include grass fires contained by volunteer firefighters and Brookhaven Fire Department without the help of the Mississippi Forestry Commission. 

Time will only tell what wildfire risk Lincoln County will have starting this summer. 

Long term forecasts and drought monitors currently bode well for Lincoln County. While the area will have above average temperatures, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecasts above average precipitation. Weather can change though.  

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State Forester Russell Bozeman said the Mississippi wildfire season is usually from October to April but wildfires can start and burn at any time of the year. 

“Even though we are not in a fire season we are still seeing wildfires,” Bozeman said. “Since April 1, MFC has responded to 178 wildfires burning 5,178 acres. Last year an extensive summer drought significantly increased wildfire activity across the state in a way we generally don’t see happen.” 

Monitor drought conditions

MFC, like The Daily Leader, is closely monitoring the NWS and the Keetch-Byram Drought Index as Mississippi approaches the heat of summer. Weather forecasts, drought maps and data help the MFC assess wildfire risk. 

So far this summer, Lincoln County has stayed out of severe drought danger but counties in north Mississippi are starting to experience abnormally dry conditions. At the local level, groundwater is starting to dry up along with creeks. 

Last year’s drought led to stressed trees and pine beetle outbreaks. A survey conducted by the MFC found 12.5 million pine trees were killed by beetles. A follow-up tree survey looking at hardwood mortality is ongoing. 

“The Mississippi Forestry Commision and our partners are looking at the weakened trees, which were affected by drought and forest pests that were exasperated by the drought, such as ips beetles,” Bozeman said. “We may not know the full impact for quite some time. Trees weakened by drought or pest infestations can definitely serve as fuel for wildfires.” 

Dead tree impact

One issue Lincoln County Forester Steven Williams warns about is the potential for dead trees to fall taking out power lines and sparking wildfires. There have been several calls where firefighters were dispatched to put out fires started by downed power lines since January. 

Lincoln County volunteer fire fighters faced several large blazes last year bigger than the normal, typical grass fire. Fires crowned in the tree canopy with ladder fuels on several occasions. 

It is possible the wildfire conditions could return. People need to remain vigilant and respect burn bans when they are put in place. Fire is a great management tool when used in a controlled, prescribed burn setting. 

“It is always important to remain alert and mindful of potential fire hazards,” Bozeman said. “It only takes one spark to ignite a fire. Remember, 9 out of 10 wildfires are human caused.”