Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) officials are cautiously optimistic that a wildfire that has consumed over 930 acres in DeKalb County, while not extinguished, is ‘contained,’ meaning that a containment line around the fire is holding. However, since Monday arsonists have set five additional fires in the vicinity, adding to the headaches of an already difficult situation. For a full week, AFC firefighters have worked with wildland fire suppression bulldozers to bring this Lookout Mountain Fire under control, which has been burning in extremely rough terrain near Valley Head and Mentone. In addition to assistance from a number of area volunteer fire departments, the AFC also called on the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) helicopter to drop water on the blaze.
Meanwhile, AFC wildland firefighters continue to monitor the still smoldering 812-acre Fox Mountain Fire, also in DeKalb County. Other large wildfires burning across the state over recent days included one for 1,308 acres in Walker County, another for 502 acres in Coosa County, one for 387 acres in Blount County, another for 300 acres in Wilcox County, and one for 247 acres in Cleburne County. Since the first of October, a total of 1,721 wildfires have destroyed over 20,000 acres of land in Alabama. While these large fires as well as numerous smaller ones continue to burn here in the state, many other wildfires are burning in the surrounding Southern states, all contributing to a vast quantity of smoke in the atmosphere.
According to Interim State Forester Gary Cole of the Alabama Forestry Commission, as long as these multiple wildfires continue to burn, there will be smoke. “Water alone does not successfully ‘extinguish’ these large wildfires,” said Cole. “In wildland firefighting, the standard tactic is to ‘contain’ the flames within plowed lanes, allowing them to burn out. While this practice does eventually control or extinguish the fires, it also produces considerable amounts of smoke.” Cole continued, “Another thing that adds to the smoke problem this time of year is dried leaves and pine straw falling on smoldering ground. It often causes fires to re-ignite, so our people have to keep a close watch on areas already burned. And it doesn’t look as if there is any relief in sight. I don’t remember when I’ve ever seen it this dry, and unfortunately there is no rain in the foreseeable future.”
A statewide ‘No Burn’ Order remains in effect, in which all outdoor or open burning is prohibited. This Drought Emergency Order was declared by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley on November 7, although burn restrictions have been in place since early October. This regulation makes it illegal for any person to set fire to any forest, grass, woods, wildlands or marshes; build a campfire or bonfire; or burn trash or debris. If convicted, the penalty for violating the No Burn Order is up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.00.
”The Forestry Commission is appreciative of the efforts of ALEA, local sheriff departments, along with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, for working in conjunction with our agency not only to enforce the No Burn Order but with arson investigations as well,” Cole stated. Additionally, Governor Bentley has appealed to the general public for assistance, announcing a $5,000 reward for anyone providing information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a person responsible for setting wildfires.
The ‘No Burn’ order 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. To report persons burning in violation of this law, contact your local law enforcement. For more information on the current wildfire situation in the state, visit Alabama Forestry Commission’s website at www.forestry.alabama.gov.