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Forest service officials warn of wildfires

Officials with the Florida Forest Service and Alabama Forestry Commission are coming together to warn residents in both states of increasing danger of wildfires because of a continued lack of rainfall. 

It has been more than a month since most of Alabama and Northwest Florida have seen significant rainfall, and there is little to no relief in sight.

“With the current weather patterns that we are experiencing, any outdoor burning has the potential for escaping and developing into a major wildfire, which could endanger lives and destroy property,” said Benji Elmore, Southwest Regional Forester with the Alabama Forestry Commission. “Prolonged drought, abnormally high temperatures, lower humidity and higher winds are all ingredients for a catastrophic fire event. Every wildfire that is prevented under these conditions could be someone’s life or home that is saved.”

Wildland firefighters in both states are on heightened alert and resources from other areas of the states have been prepositioned to help deal with the elevated fire activity in some areas and increased potential in others. Florida has pulled resources from the peninsula to Northwest Florida to combat increased fire starts while Alabama has shifted resources to the northeast portion of the state, which has seen the most significant fire activity.

The two agencies – both responsible for wildfire suppression in their respective states – also are working together in areas along their roughly 200-mile border and elsewhere as needed to help each other fight fires as they occur.

“Our resources are ready to respond throughout the Florida Panhandle as well as nearby areas of Alabama if requested,” said Ken Weber, Florida Forest Service Deputy Chief of Field Operations for Region 1, which covers the area from the western Florida-Alabama line along the Perdido River east to the Aucilla River and Jefferson County line. “The partnership between Florida and Alabama is strong, and we’ve always been available to help each other when needed. As it gets drier and we see more fires, the Florida Forest Service will continue to aid in any way possible while still protecting our state.”

Alabama currently is under a statewide Fire Alert, which allows the Forestry Commission to restrict the issuing of burn permits. 

During a Fire Alert, permits will be issued on an individual basis at the discretion of the State Forester to certified prescribed burn managers with adequate manpower and equipment. Anyone who burns a field, grassland or woodland without a burn permit may be subject to prosecution for committing a Class B misdemeanor.

The area most impacted by drought conditions in Florida is split between the Blackwater Forestry Center (serving Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties) and the Chipola Forestry Center (serving Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Walton and Washington counties). No burn authorizations are being issued within the boundaries of the Chipola Forestry Center until conditions improve, and county-issued burn bans are in place for all of Holmes and Washington counties. Authorizations for acreage burns will not be issued by the Blackwater Forestry Center, and pile burners must have adequate heavy equipment on scene.

To report a wildfire in Alabama, call the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) at (800) 392-5679. For more information on the current wildfire situation in the state or any other forestry-related issues, contact your local AFC office or visit the agency website at www.forestry.alabama.gov/Pages/Fire/Totals.aspx. The Alabama Forestry Commission is the state agency committed to protecting Alabama’s invaluable forest assets as well as its citizens.

To report a wildfire in Florida, call (850) 957-5701 for the Blackwater Forestry Center or
(850) 373-1801 for the Chipola Forestry Center.

The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages more than 1 million acres of state forests and provides forest management assistance on more than 17 million acres of private and community forests. The Florida Forest Service is also responsible for protecting homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects wildfire on more than 26 million acres. Learn more at FDACS.gov/FLForestService.