Archived Story

Remember drought conditions on the Fourth

Published 7:59am Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Drought. It has become an all too common occurrence for Alabama.

It’s already very hot, with the mercury rarely dipping below 90 degrees on any given day. The heat parches the ground, evaporates the moisture, and turns the soil rock hard. Add rainfall that is well below average, and everything from fields to gardens just seems to burn up.

Literally.

Gulf Shores State Park, the scrub pine and dune grasses that make up one of the state’s most visited public facilities, caught on fire. The blaze started last Saturday, and quickly torched up to 200 acres. While no buildings or people were hurt, the massive fire bathed in smoke a vital tourist destination.

The drought is most pronounced the farther south you go. The worst drought ratings by the National Weather Service, exceptional and extreme, cover most of the Wiregrass and the counties on the coast. Severe to moderate drought conditions extend to the central part of the state, and abnormally dry conditions cover the Tennessee Valley. While some rain has come in the past week, it is not enough to make up for weeks of heat and no precipitation.

Earlier this month, the governor issued a ban on burning in all 67 counties to address a threat of wildfires being stoked by the hot, dry weather. Adding to the threat of fire is the massive amount of downed trees and across the state caused by the deadly tornados in April.

The state estimates that forest and timberland losses from the tornadoes are more than 204,000 acres. As these trees continue to dry out the fire threat grows.

Earlier this month, a forest fire in Jefferson County followed a tornado-damaged path, and engulfed 2,400 acres before it was contained. This year there have been more than 800 wildfires burning over 41,000 acres due to dry conditions.

More than likely we will see increased wildfires in damaged forests. As fire spreads it puts stress on the healthy woodlands suffering from a lack of rain, thereby increasing the fire threat to more acreage.

State officials have organized a forest recovery task force to assist landowners, loggers and companies in removing and salvaging damaged timber as fast as possible. The growing fire conditions put more importance on their work each passing day.

As we move into the summer’s most important holiday weekend, the one question on everyone’s mind is: can we shoot fireworks?

As of right now fireworks are not covered by the burn ban, but that could change. During another historically bad drought year in 2007, the state banned some types of fireworks, including bottle rockets that have a tendency to touch off fires due to misuse.

This is the make or break week for thousands of fireworks dealers, so state officials are wary of any ban. They must balance their needs of these dealers to the risk of wildfires and property damage that comes from misuse of fireworks.

The most important thing is for people to be responsible when celebrating the fourth. Fire departments across the state recommend having a water hose or water type extinguisher close by to put out any fires that may result from lighting fireworks.

Drought is tough enough. We can do our part by not adding fuel to the fire.

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.

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