Restrictions lifted after rain lessens wildfire threat

News Staff Writer

Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) officials have lifted the restrictions just put into place last week regarding outdoor burning in eight southwest Alabama counties, including Escambia.
A lack of rain, along with gusty winds and low relative humidities — conditions not common to this time of year — were blamed for the February 26 issuance by AFC of a “Fire Alert” in Escambia, Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington counties.
The Fire Alert was canceled Monday afternoon, March 4.
“Effective immediately, State Forester Rick Oates has lifted the Fire Alert for eight counties in southwest Alabama which was issued on February 26,” reads a press release from the state agency. “Scattered rainfall over most of the state during the past few days brought much needed relief to the state’s wildfire situation, and the Alabama Forestry Commission has resumed issuing permits for outdoor burning as usual.”
Over the seven days the alert was in place, outdoor burning by anyone other than those certified to handle such fires was outlawed in the eight-county area, with Class B misdemeanor charges a possibility for those who violated it. Burn permits in the specified counties were issued to Certified Prescribed Burn Managers only.
Atmore Fire Department (AFD) Chief Ron Peebles agreed the windy conditions that have prevailed recently had negated any rainfall the area had received.
“A lot of people think, because it just rained yesterday or two days ago, that grass won’t burn,” he said. “But the wind dries out that top layer. The dirt under it is wet, but the top layer is dry, and it is going to burn. The top layer gets a little sun, but the wind is what dries it out so quick.”
AFC Fire Analyst Ethan Barrett said the rash of fires experienced across the state was not normal for this time of year, when there is usually higher humidity, less wind and more moisture in the ground to prevent wildfires from spreading.
“What’s really been hurting us is, at night we’ve not been having what we call recovery, or humidity coming up enough to create dewfall, which helps keep the ground damp through the early parts of the day,” Barrett said.
During the last nine days of February, AFC suppressed 311 wildfires that blackened approximately 10,459 Alabama acres.
More than half the scarred Alabama acreage occurred from wildfires in the six southwest counties for which new restrictions have been put in place. The total includes a 1,210-acre woods fire in Baldwin County, a 300-acre forest fire in Washington County, a 275-acre brush fire in Escambia County, one that burned 240 acres in Mobile County, and six others that blackened at least 100 acres.
AFD units were dispatched 12 times during February to either take the lead or to assist under various mutual aid pacts in fighting outdoor fires, including some inside Atmore’s city limits.
“We’ve had them on Old Ship Circle, Liberty Street and Broad Street,” Peebles said. “We assisted Wawbeek (Volunteer Fire Department) twice; we assisted Poarch (Creek Indians Fire Department) on a Jack Springs Road fire, and Poarch assisted us with one on Woods Road. We also helped with a big fire off Nokomis Road, just across the Florida line.”
Barrett told WBRC-television in Birmingham that most of the recent and current fires are manmade, usually the result of burning debris that wasn’t watched properly or that was wind-swept across fields and into forests.
Peebles said he believes an entirely different source was responsible for one of the local fires.
“I believe a train started the one on Woods Road,” he said. “The fire was all along the railroad tracks, in areas where there’s nobody or where nobody is going to be.”
The city fire chief said his department has been blessed with equipment designed to fight outdoor fires. One of the newest additions, a Kawasaki Mule, has been extremely effective since AFD began using it in early February.
“It has a high-pressure, 75-gallon tank, and it’s going places we’ve never been before,” Peebles explained. “It’s worth its weight in gold; probably the best thing we’ve ever added to our fleet, as far as fighting brush fires. It’s already paid for itself, and it’s just been in service a month.”
Forestry and fire department officials across the state are urging those who burn outdoors to factor a combination of extreme caution, weather awareness and common sense into the planned burn.
AFC reminded residents that any fire more than a quarter-acre in size, or within 25 feet of a forested area, requires a permit from the AFC. Burn permits may be obtained by calling 800-392-5679, the same number for reporting a wildfire anywhere in the state.
For more information on the current wildfire situation in the state, or any other forestry-related issues, contact the local AFC office (251-212-0171 in Escambia County) or visit the agency’s website at