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Fire alert issued for Escambia County

By By Adam Prestridge
Fire departments throughout Escambia County, Ala. are all too familiar with fighting forest fires.
It's an art they've nearly perfected, but one they don't desire to perform on a daily basis.
As of late, grass and woods fires are breaking out on a seemingly endless basis. For that reason, the Alabama Forestry Commission has issued a Fire Alert for Escambia, Mobile and Washington counties effective noon Thursday.
"I'm glad that the forestry went ahead and issued the no burn for the county," Atmore fire chief Gerry McGhee said Friday. "We definitely needed it, but we also need some more rain."
Despite the afternoon showers that have come through the area the past couple of days, McGhee said it's going to take several days worth of rain to saturate the ground good enough to lift the city's no burn ban, which was issued several weeks ago.
Some of the most recent fires include one that broke out Tuesday off Old Uriah Road on the Bell Creek II Hunting Club property, which destroyed acre after acre of land. Last week, three fires erupted throughout Escambia County including one on Sardis Church Road in Wawbeek that consumed an estimated 130 acres, a mixed brush fire off Smith Dairy Road in Atmore and one on Hwy. 113 in Flomaton. All the fires occurred on July 12 keeping county fire departments and the Alabama Forestry Commission in Escambia County busy throughout the duration of the day.
"We are the second highest county in state for brush fires," Escambia County manager of the Alabama Forestry Commission Randy Cannon said last week. "
According to fire officials with the Alabama Forestry Commission, although the number of fire starts and acres burned are holding steady, the Fire Alert was issued because of the high likelihood of wildfire due to extremely dry conditions.
"The dryness aids the fires in spreading," McGhee said. "We just caution people to not burn."
The Alabama Forestry Department responded to 48 fires last year, this year so far they have responded to approximately 220.
In many areas firefighters are reporting very erratic fire behavior and it is becoming more difficult to keep fires contained; two of the indicators the Commission uses in determining extreme fire conditions. Firefighter injuries and fatigue from excessive heat was also a factor in making the decision to issue the alert.
According to officials with the Alabama Forestry Commission, while under the Fire Alert, permits for outdoor burning in Escambia, Mobile and Washington counties will be restricted and issued on an individual basis.
A release issued by the Commission states that the Commission is urging everyone in other counties not affected by the Fire Alert to use all necessary safety precautions when doing any type of outdoor burning and to call the Alabama Forestry Commission for a burn permit.
Other than the counties under a Fire Alert there have been no burning restrictions issued by the Commission, although 12 counties fall under the Alabama Department of Environment Management (ADEM) summer burning regulations (for environmental quality.) They include Baldwin, DeKalb, Etowah, Jefferson, Lawrence, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery, Morgan, Russell, Shelby, and Talladega.
From July 1, 2006 through July 19, 2006, 399 fires have occurred statewide burning almost 5,100 acres, according to the Alabama Forestry Commission. Since the beginning of the state fiscal year October 1, 2005, Alabama has had 4,486 fires that have burned 65,455 acres.
For more information about the fire situation in your area or any other forestry related issues contact your local Alabama Forestry Commission office or visit the web page at www.forestry.state.al.us <http://www.forestry. state.al.us/>.