Gov. Bentley bans outdoor burning across state

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, October 13, 2016

By Blake Deshazo
The Selma Times-Journal

Severe drought conditions across Alabama have forced Gov. Robert Bentley to ban outdoor burning in Dallas and 45 other counties.

Gov. Bentley signed a drought emergency declaration Wednesday after the Alabama Forestry Commission issued a fire danger warning last week.

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“The current drought condition in our state is posing a serious threat for wildfires,” Gov. Bentley said. “The continued lack of rain combined with low relative humidity and strong winds put us at a very high risk. This declaration is meant to prevent unnecessary burning, reducing the chance of avoidable fires.”

The ban makes outdoor burning unlawful until the declaration is lifted.

“It shall be unlawful … for any person to set fire to any forest, grass, woods, wild lands or marshes or to build a campfire or bonfire or to burn trash or other material that may cause a forest, grass or woods fire,” the declaration states.

Autauga, Chilton, Lowndes and Perry counties are also included in the ban.

Gerald Satterwhite, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham, said Dallas County is in a moderate drought.

“We’ve seen the drought not only expanding across the state over the last month, but it has also been getting more severe,” Satterwhite said. “You’re definitely not seeing the worst drought in the state, but you’re still having the drought conditions.”

Satterwhite said dry conditions are in the forecast for the next week, so the conditions could get even worse.

“It looks like there might be a weather system that comes in around Friday of next week with a chance of showers, but that’s not going to be enough to knock the drought out,” Satterwhite said. “We actually expect it to continue for the next few months.”

October is typically a dry month, but Satterwhite said recent weather conditions have made it worse than normal.

“This year we’ve had a really strong area of high pressure parked over our area, so we didn’t have those fronts coming in bringing those showers and thunderstorms,” Satterwhite said.

“It was a pretty persistent pattern, and with the heat combined it allowed the drought to get worse.”

Coleen Vansant, a spokesperson for the Alabama Forestry Commission, said drought conditions are at a critical level.

“There is not a brush pile or a garbage pile in somebody’s backyard that is worth it right now,” Vansant said. “It does not take much for a trash fire or debris fire … for it to spread.”

Vansant said there is also a price to pay for outdoor burning right now.

“You are responsible for wherever your fire goes. If it burns anything else, if it burns your neighbor’s property or anything they have, you are criminally responsible for it,” Vansant said. “You can not only get time in the county jail, but it can get very expensive if you have to pay for somebody else’s house or property.”

According to the commission’s website, there are no active wildfires in Dallas County, but there are 12 active ones in the state, as of Thursday evening.