Alabama Drought Leads to Fire Danger
October 10, 2016
Update: October 12, 2016, 4:45 PM -
Governor Robert Bentley has issued a Drought Emergency Declaration for 46 Alabama counties, which includes Tuscaloosa County. This declaration, also known as a burn ban, prohibits any person to set fires to any forests or grasses, build a campfire or bonfire, or to burn trash or other material that could cause a wildfire. Regulations allow for barbeque cooking fires but only if the fire is in a grill or masonry barbeque pit, and anyone grilling or cooking should have a hose nearby to extinguish any sparks. Gas grills are allowed. Campfires or bonfires, even those in metal or stone fire rings, are prohibited. Outdoor tiki torches or candles should not be used.
Burning of any kind is considered illegal while this Declaration is in place. This Declaration will remain in effect until rescinded by the State Forester. If anyone is found guilty of violating these regulations and burning in a restricted area, they may be fined up to $500. Additionally, any person in violation of the regulations may be liable for property damages and any costs associated with the suppression of the fire.
October is National Fire Prevention Month. To most people, this means preventing fires in your home. But it is really about prevention of all fires - including wildfires. Each year, wildfires consume thousands of acres of land in the United States and destroy hundreds of homes.
Weather plays a large part in creating ideal conditions for wildfires to start and spread. The main weather criteria that affect wildfires are very dry or drought-like conditions, low humidity values, and high wind speeds. When these criteria are reached, the National Weather Service will issue a Fire Weather Watch or a Red Flag Warning for the affected areas. A Fire Weather Watch is issued to alert people of potentially dangerous fire weather conditions in the next 24 to 36 hours. A Red Flag Warning is issued to alert people of potentially dangerous fire weather conditions in the next 12 to 24 hours. If you see a Fire Weather Watch or a Red Flag Warning, it should be a sign to stop any burning or outdoor fires in your area.
Currently, Alabama is at a high risk for wildfire ignition and spread. Alabama is in a drought, with some areas at almost twelve inches below normal rainfall for the year. Tuscaloosa County is approaching eight inches below normal rainfall for the year. The longer term forecast models are predicting above-average temperatures and below normal rainfall through the start of the winter season. Due to ongoing drought conditions, dry soils, and readily available "dry fuel," the National Interagency Fire Center has identified Alabama at an above-normal risk for wildfires through December of this year.
According to the Alabama Forestry Commission, there have been over 140 wildfires in the state within the last week. These fires have burned over 1,500 acres of land. Because of this, the Alabama Forestry Commission issued a Fire Danger Warning for 46 Alabama counties earlier in the week, which has since been upgraded to a Fire Alert. This Alert does include Tuscaloosa County. See the entire warning text HERE.
The Alabama Forestry Commission says that with the Fire Alert enacted, burn permits will only be granted for necessary forestry needs. If a burn ban is enacted, ALL burning is considered illegal. Additionally, any individual that causes a fire could be required to pay for the cost of fire suppression.
An estimated nine out of ten wildfires are started by people. Do your part in preventing wildfire. The best thing you can do is to avoid any outdoor burning or campfires. Be sure to extinguish all cigarettes and matches fully before disposal. Watch any equipment or vehicle that may spark. Stay informed of what alerts and bans are in place. It is everyone's job to prevent human-caused wildfires.