Effective immediately, the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) has lifted the Fire Danger Advisory which was issued last week for 15 counties in south Alabama. Scattered rainfall over the past few days in the southern counties has delivered much needed relief to a potentially dangerous situation.
Dry conditions, gusty winds, and low humidity contributed to the growth of a large wildfire in Mobile that started on May 12. Forestry Commission wildland firefighters and partnering emergency responders continued to battle this blaze over the next seven days. The fire was finally controlled late on May 19, after burning almost 1,100 acres. Besides AFC hometown crews of Mobile and Baldwin counties, additional assistance was required from within the agency with firefighters arriving from Butler, Covington, Hale, Marengo, and Wilcox counties.
“We are truly thankful for our partners,” said State Forester Rick Oates. “Without the on-the-ground assistance of numerous local volunteer fire departments (VFDs), along with air support from the Alabama National Guard and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), the outcome of this wildfire could have been much worse. We extend our thanks to Governor Kay Ivey and EMA Director Brian Hastings for expediting our requests for the Guard and ALEA helicopters.
“We also appreciate that the AFC team leading the fight had the experience and expertise with this sort of difficult wildfire to prevent it from becoming an even greater disaster,” Oates continued. “The vegetation was highly combustible, but some of the terrain was inaccessible for our heavy AFC equipment due to bogs; that’s why we needed air support. All total, the Guard Blackhawks and ALEA Bell and Huey helicopters dropped approximately 150,000 gallons of water on the flames. Their seamless operations protected equipment and firefighters on the ground on more than one occasion when the fire was burning intense and moving fast. Meanwhile, the VFDs were tasked with protecting homes that were threatened.”
“This wildfire will go down as one of my top 10 most memorable in the 35 years I’ve been fighting forest fires,” commented Benji Elmore, AFC Southwest Regional Forester and Incident Commander on this fire. “Flame heights reached 80 to 100 feet at times, with a high rate of spread and spotting occurring a quarter mile ahead of the flame front. Each day the fire made runs at our containment lines and many times jumped them. It’s pretty remarkable that an incident as complex and dangerous as this was, no one was hurt, and no homes were lost.”
The AFC urges anyone conducting outdoor burning to follow safety recommendations such as not leaving a fire unattended until it is out, having necessary equipment and personnel to control the fire, and having a garden hose or other water supply on hand for smaller debris burns. Any fire more than a quarter-acre in size or within 25 feet of a forested area requires a permit from the AFC, which may be obtained by calling (800) 392-5679. Anyone who burns a field, grassland, or woodland without a burn permit may be subject to prosecution for committing a Class B misdemeanor. In counties under Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) restrictions, burn permits are issued for agricultural and silvicultural burning only.
The Alabama Forestry Commission is the state agency charged with protecting Alabama’s invaluable forest assets as well as its citizens from wildfire. To report a wildfire, call (800) 392-5679. To learn more about the AFC, visit www.forestry.alabama.gov.