Relentless rising temperatures have sparked a concern with the Alabama Forestry Commission.
“We have been warned it’s going to be an extremely hot summer,” said Huey Jones, Alabama Forestry Commission forestry specialist for Henry County. “With scorching temperatures, we could also see an increase in wildfires.”
The rain received last week removed portions of the Wiregrass area from the drought stage for now, Jones said.
“As long as we see the afternoon stray showers, the drought percentage will hopefully stay low, decreasing the chance of wildfires, but this could change at any time,” Jones said. “If there is a lack of rain and the winds increase, the potential for wildfires will increase.
Henry County has reported two wildfires in the last 30 days, with one reportedly caused by equipment catching fire, igniting a grass fire.
That fire was contained to two acres and was safely extinguished with no drastic measures, Jones said.
He warns residents about the danger of burning debris.
“Embers can, and will, fly and start a fire,” Jones said. “Individuals burning debris need to remember to always stay nearby the fire. Constantly keep the area around the fire wet. Keep a rake and shovel handy. If the fire increases to an unsafe distance, put the fire out. Make sure that fire is out. Wet the fire and stir the area. Wait a few minutes and wet it again. Make sure the fire is out completely. The main cause of wildfires from debris burning is embers.”
According to Jones, prescribed burning has also played a role in starting wildfires.
“If a timber owner is doing a prescribed burn, that owner needs to make sure they have enough manpower available to control the fire. The fire breaks also need to be done properly,” Jones said. “It is very important to always monitor your fire and fire breaks; this helps to ensure the fire stays within the breaks.”
Most wildfires are started by carelessness.
“You can’t start a fire and just walk away,” Jones said. “We have individuals say they just went to get a glass of tea and come back and the fire had spread. It only takes a few minutes for a fire to spread. That is why it is important to be near the fire. If someone needs to walk away from a fire, make sure someone is there to look after the fire. All of us at the forestry commission have seen too many structures and timberlands destroyed by fire. In a majority of the cases, the entire loss could have been prevented.
“The best piece of advice anyone can be given about forest fires, or any fire for that matter is where there is smoke, there is fire,” Jones said. “If a motorist is traveling down the road and they notice huge amounts of smoke, call 911. The forestry commission, as well as the fire departments, would rather respond to something and dismiss it than not receive a call and thousands of acres are destroyed as well as homes. Just play it safe and call 911.”