Because prolonged drought conditions throughout the state have increased the likelihood of catastrophic wildfire activity, Gov. Robert Bentley has issued an immediate ban on outdoor burning in all 67 counties.
“The lack of rain and unseasonably high temperatures have left much of the state extremely dry, creating high risk potential for devastating wildfires,” Bentley said. “As Alabamians are recovering from the tornados that moved through the state in April, it is important that debris not be burned. We must take every precaution necessary to avoid the start of a wildfire.”
Under the ban, it is illegal for a person to set fire to any forest, grass, woods, wild lands or marshes, to build a campfire or bonfire, or to burn trash or other material that may cause a forest, grass, or woods fire. The fine for violating the no burn order is up to a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.
Because of budget cuts and subsequent layoffs in 2010, State Forester Linda Casey said Alabama already has a shortage in firefighters.
“We’ve got three crews from north Alabama that’s down in south Baldwin County fighting fires, and it’s leaving those other counties high and dry," Casey said. "We’re juggling as best we can right now.”
Fire numbers expected to double
Casey said the forestry commission expects the number of wildfires in the state to double because of drought conditions as well as downed timber from the storms.
“There are 12 million tons of fiber on the ground drying out — that’s fuel,” Casey said. “Some of these areas are not going to be salvaged. Most of that volume is going to remain right where it is.”
Since January, 1,808 wildfires have burned more than 41,507 acres in Alabama. In 2010, there were 2,990 fires that burned only 35,486 acres.
There are currently 13 active wildfires in the state.
The projected 2012 state general fund budget allots $9.4 million to the Forestry Commission, but Casey said it is about $4 million short of what is needed to adequately prevent and subdue wildfires.
In addition, this October, 40 percent of fire units will be past the recommended replacement age of 20 years, and the Forestry Commission does not have enough funding to replace any equipment, Casey said.
Casey said she wants to counteract the shortages by raising awareness among landowners.
“We’re going to have an all-out fire mitigation campaign working with communities and landowners in the affected areas to raise awareness about the risk of fire and things they can do for little or no money that might help reduce their risk to both homes and forest property,” Casey said. “We’re trying to be more proactive than just reactive.”
Tips for preventing wildfires can be found on the Alabama Forestry Commission’s website, www.forestry.state.al.us.