Above normal temperatures have combined with the below normal rainfall to worsen drought conditions across Central Alabama. These conditions have made it a very favorable risk for the occurrence of wildfires. Just this week, the Alabama Forestry Commission has upgraded the Fire Danger Warning, issuing a Fire Alert for 46 counties in north Alabama effective immediately due to the very dry conditions.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that drought conditions have worsened during the past two weeks. As of October 4th, 2016, areas of Central Alabama are in a moderate drought to severe drought, with some locations in an extreme drought. Rainfall deficits of 5-15 inches for the year are now being reported in most areas of Central Alabama. Soil moistures are running well below normal for this time of the year across most sections of Central Alabama with the greatest deficits in the eastern sections.
According to AFC fire officials, the Fire Alert was issued because of the current drought situation, continued lack of precipitation, high probability of fuel ignition, and shortage of available firefighting manpower and resources. With this extremely dry weather, conditions are such that any fire can quickly spread out of control, not only resulting in damage to our forests but also threatening and destroying homes. Over the last seven days, 307 wildfires have occurred across Alabama burning approximately 3,698 acres.
The fire danger warning is for 46 Alabama counties and includes: Autauga, Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Chambers, Cherokee, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Coosa, Cullman, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Lowndes, Macon, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Montgomery, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Randolph, Russell, Shelby, St. Clair, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker, and Winston.
This Fire Alert will remain in effect until rescinded by the State Forester, at which time conditions will have changed sufficiently to reduce the occurrence and frequency of wildfires. The Commission is urging everyone to exercise all necessary safety precautions when doing any type of outdoor burning, and to call the Alabama Forestry Commission to obtain a burn permit. While under the Fire Alert, permits for outdoor burning in these counties will be restricted and issued on an individual basis.
Some safety tips during dry weather conditions to prevent wildfires are:
- Comply with all local laws and regulations including burn bans.
- Check the weather. Do not start outdoor fires during windy conditions and low humidity.
- Avoid burning household trash, leaves, or brush piles.
- Keep campfires contained and completely extinguish it with water and dirt before leaving the campsite.
- Never leave a gas grill or charcoal grill unattended.
- Never throw a lighted cigarette out of the window of a vehicle.
- Avoid driving and parking a vehicle on dry vegetation.
The drought conditions are also already having an impact on the landscape. In addition to the risk of wildfires, the latest USDA reports indicate that the drought conditions are continuing to harm many crops across the area. Many pastures are reported as burned up, with some cattle producers already having to feed hay to their stocks. The dry weather is also impacting late soybean crops that are trying to fill out. Many trees that normally have beautiful fall color are going dormant early and shedding brown leaves. Some woodland trees and landscape plants are suffering and dying due to lack of moisture.
It seems every possible rain shower in the area has bypassed or fizzled out before reaching our area of Tallapoosa County, especially the Dadeville area. With October traditionally being the driest month, an end to this pattern of dry conditions may not end any time soon.