Drought conditions prompt fire alert, impact some cattle farmers

Drought conditions prompt fire alert, impact some cattle farmers

By Mary Sell, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Forestry Commission has restricted outdoor burning across the state due to drought conditions.

A U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday morning showed most of Alabama to be abnormally dry. Portions of 11 states were listed as having severe drought conditions and Shelby County has extreme drought conditions.

The statewide fire alert issued Wednesday means permits for outdoor burning are required. Anyone who burns a field, grassland, or woodland without a permit could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.

With this extremely dry weather, conditions are such that any fire can quickly spread out of control, not only resulting in damage to forests but also threatening lives and destroying property, a Forestry press release Wednesday said.

In the past week, AFC firefighters responded to 182 wildfires, burning about 2,608 acres.

Since the beginning of the year, AFC has responded to 1,122 fires burning nearly 16,000 acres. The same time period in 2018 saw 810 fires burning 10,333 acres.

The fire alert is not a burn ban, so while it’s still legal to have fire pit, camp fire or bonfire, forestry strongly recommends against it.

“We are asking people not to burn anything outdoors unless absolutely necessary,” Elishia Ballentine, a spokesperson for Forestry, said. “Please, wait until it rains.”

Ballentine said that even with a burn permit, a person who starts a fire is responsible for it  and liable if it escapes and damages another person’s property.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries is also monitoring the state’s dry conditions.

“The drought monitor map has grown over the past month. Additionally, we are consulting with our state and federal partners at (the United States Department of Agriculture) and the state climatologist pertaining to the federal programs available due to drought,” Deputy Commissioner Hassey Brooks told Alabama Daily News. “To date, four Alabama counties have been declared a secretarial disaster county due to drought. We anticipate this number to increase.”

Those counties are Dale, Geneva, Henry and Barbour.

Mary Johns, director of news services for Alabama Farmers Federation, said the current situation in not nearly as bad as some previous droughts.

“The impacts of this drought are somewhat localized around Shelby and Chilton counties plus Henry and Houston counties in the south and Jackson County in the north,” Johns said. “That being said, cattle farmers in those and surrounding counties are having to use more resources to make sure their cattle are fed well.”

Pastureland is a concern, as well as fire risk.

“Currently, the USDA Alabama Crop Progress and Condition Report rates 6 percent of pastureland as very poor and 32 percent as poor,” Johns said. “This means farmers are having to provide supplemental feed for their cattle, such as hay. I have heard from some farmers who are having a hard time finding hay to buy. It’s not that the hay isn’t out there – it’s that farmers who have it are holding on to it so they’ll have enough to make it through winter with the supplemental feeding needs.”