August 21, 2023

NO EXEMPTIONS: Understanding a ‘partial statewide burn ban’

Therese Apel

A grass and woods fire on Shady Hill Drive in the Star community of Rankin County.

Star Volunteer Fire Department in Rankin County spent most of Sunday on the scene of a large brush and woods fire on Shady Hill Drive. It was just one of dozens of calls across Mississippi.

Around the state this weekend, firefighters continued to respond to grass fires started by people whose controlled burns got out of control in the extreme heat and dryness.

Star VFD Chief Jackie Squires said the blaze was between three and five acres, and his department was on scene from around 2:25 p.m. until around 10 p.m. They were assisted by Forestry and a few other Rankin County firefighters from other departments.

There were several homes in the area of that fire that could have been affected, Squires said, with one being close enough that the smoke was an issue. The fire was contained after Forestry put a fire lane around it, and as of Monday morning, there was no further spread.

It took more of an effort for the firefighters on the ground, Squires said, because the fire affected the same area hit by a tornado a few years ago. The fallen trees made for a more difficult attack, and the additional dead brush and thickets surrounding them made for more fuel for the fire.

Other fires were started by chains dragging off trailers going down the road, throwing sparks into the hot, dry grass in the ditch. In Madison County, EMA Director Minor Norman said some roadside fires can also be caused by a passing car when a cigarette is thrown out the window.

Rankin County Fire Coordinator Brett Ishee said those things are avoidable, and that in dry conditions like this it’s important to pay attention to every detail.

“Make sure you check that your safety chains are hooked up when you pull out with your trailer,” he said. “And take your cigarette butts and extinguish them in water.”

Currently, almost half the state is under a burn ban mandated by Governor Tate Reeves. The difference between a state burn ban and a county burn ban is that a state burn ban has no exceptions. Under a county burn ban, the county can list exemptions such as commercial construction in a burn ban.

“Much of the state is experiencing significant drought conditions,” said Reeves. “With the current drought conditions and little rainfall in the forecast, we are taking action now to protect the public. The state of Mississippi will continue to monitor conditions and respond as needed.”

The following 40 counties will be under the burn ban, which will remain in place until further notice: Adams, Amite, Claiborne, Clarke, Copiah, Covington, Forrest, Franklin, George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Issaquena, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson Davis, Jefferson, Jones, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lincoln, Madison, Marion, Newton, Pearl River, Perry, Pike, Rankin, Scott, Sharkey, Simpson, Smith, Stone, Walthall, Warren, Wayne, Wilkinson, and Yazoo.

Under a partial statewide burn ban, outdoor burning of any kind is prohibited in the specified counties. Persons caught violating a burn ban can be fined and held responsible for any damages caused by a fire. Due to drought conditions, the MFC is discouraging any unnecessary outdoor burning, even in parts of the state that are not under the burn ban. Gas, propane, and charcoal grills are safe to use when using safe handling precautions.

In Madison County on Friday afternoon, Kearney Park Fire Department responded to a brush fire out of control, Norman said.

The fire occurred before the burn ban was announced, he said, but it originated from a controlled burn. Flora Fire Department was also called in to assist.

Hinds County officials were in a Board of Supervisors meeting when we attempted to contact them Monday.

As of noon Monday when this story was being written, Langford Volunteer Fire Department in Rankin County was fighting a grass fire on Highway 471 as well.

The Mississippi Forestry Commission has activated its Incident Management Team to help facilitate rapid deployment to wildfires.

The partial state-level burn ban was effective as of Friday and has no exemptions. The burn ban was implemented due to increased wildfire occurrences, high drought index, dry vegetation, and the forecasted weather patterns statewide over the next ten days.

The National Weather Service says there are only very small chances of rain in the forecast through the end of the month.

Call 911 or contact MFC’s Central Dispatch at 877-MFC-FIRE to report a wildfire.

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