By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Note: The following story was written late Monday, September 4. Early Tuesday, September 5, Nokomis Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Jerry Gehman reported the fire had jumped containment and was raging again.
Firefighters from Alabama Forestry Commission, Atmore, Poarch, Perdido and Lottie were still battling the blaze as Atmore News went to press Tuesday.
An unidentified firefighter has reportedly been injured or overcome by smoke and has been taken by ambulance to a Mobile hospital, Gehman said.
Firefighters from four area agencies have finally — although tentatively — brought under control a wildfire that raged for more than a week across a wooded area near Nokomis, burning an estimated 70 acres before its most recent containment.
Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) Forester Thomas Davis said the fire’s cause was still not known as this week began, although foresters have a pretty good hunch. The cause of the woodlands blaze is officially listed as “unknown,” but Davis said it “started close to power lines, so it could have been an electric arch.”
Whatever the catalyst, flames cropped up August 23 and spread rapidly across acres of hardwoods, pines and brush that have become little more than tinder as temperatures have soared and drought conditions have prevailed throughout Lower Alabama.
“We (Alabama Forestry Commission firefighters) were called to the fire Wednesday (August 23) around 4:30 p.m.,” Davis said. “We plowed around approximately 35 acres. In the process we burst a hose on our plow but contained all the flames.”
Personnel from Nokomis Volunteer Fire Department (NVFD), Atmore Fire Department (AFD) and Poarch Creek Fire Department (PFD) helped battle the fast-moving fire. Florida Forestry Commission offered to send a crew, but it was determined the extra help was not needed.
Firefighters “wet-lined” about three acres and left believing the fire was effectively contained, Davis said.
Around 10:30 a.m. the next day (August 24), NVFD officials called to report that flames had flared back up on the wet-lined area, so AFC0 returned and plowed an additional 10 acres.
That took care of things, or so it seemed. But the relief lasted only a few days.
By the time the fire was again contained, it had doubled in size and had burned virtually everything in its path between Pinehaven Road and James Road, near Nokomis Hunting Club.
“On the 29th it restarted up on the west side of the tract, burning an additional 15-20 acres,” Davis said. “This time we plowed and bladed an 8-foot line around it, which has contained and controlled it.”
AFC is using a drone to monitor the situation.
Atmore Fire Chief Ron Peebles pointed out that the fire, though contained, won’t be completely extinguished until the area receives some measurable rainfall.
“Dryness was a contributing factor in that fire not going out,” he said. “It won’t go completely out until we get significant rain. It’s already jumped the lines three or four times, and it’s still burning inside the lines.”
He said something as simple as a subtle shift in the wind could reignite the forest fire, the largest of six that burned roughly 80 collective acres in Escambia County during August.
“The embers are on the burnt side (of the containment),” he said. “But a strong wind could blow them outside it, and we’d have to start all over again.”
Peebles said AFD crews also battled a half-acre fire August 30 on Cool Creek Lane, between Cindebran Drive and West Road. Lightning was the cause of that blaze, which took most of an hour to extinguish.
AFC has issued a Fire Danger Advisory for nine counties, including Escambia, in Southwest Alabama. The other counties are Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Mobile, Monroe and Wilcox.
Although the state is not under any type of burn restriction, AFC officials said drought conditions and blistering heat have combined to create “a high probability” of fuel ignition and an atmosphere favorable for wildfires.
AFC Southwest Regional Forester Benji Elmore reportd last Friday, September 1, that 112 wildfires had burned approximately 1,339 acres in the region over the past 30 days, more than half of that in Mobile County.
Elmore told Atmore News that slim projections of rainfall over the next few days could provide a degree of relief. But, he added, it most likely won’t be a long-term cure.
“This weekend some areas are enjoying a brief relief from firefighting as we’re experiencing rain,” he said. “Unfortunately, this relief may be short lived. Looking at our fire weather forecasts, we’re expecting the weather to go dry and hot (again) in the coming weeks, which will be conducive to fire activity, possibly in late September and early October.
“During drought conditions, wildfires are difficult to control, and many times require repeated visits to the scene when they re-ignite. One careless match can cause a problem that lasts for days and threatens life and property.”
Elmore also advised people to delay outdoor burning, if possible, until conditions improve.
The regional forester announced, too, that AFC is sending resources to Louisiana to assist with the Tiger Island Fire, an act of arson that has burned more than 31,000 acres and is the largest wildfire in that state’s history.