Bonfires, campfires and burn barrels are still prohibited until significant rain falls.
Over the weekend, cooler temperatures broke the long stretch of sweltering summer heat in Mississippi, triggering thoughts of cool nights and gathering around a fire.
But residents should be aware that the burn ban across much of the Magnolia State continues, and it will take several subsequent days of rain to break the drought before state officials decide to lift it.
“The Governor’s Office is working with the State Forester to determine the appropriate time to lift the ban, which will be after the state experiences significant rainfall,” said Shelby Wilcher, press secretary for Governor Tate Reeves.
The first of the current cycle’s burn bans were issued in early August, which included only a handful of counties. Then, in mid-August, Governor Reeves issued a partial statewide burn ban. As of Monday, more than 50 of the state’s 82 counties were still under the burn ban.
“Since August 1, the Mississippi Forestry Commission has responded to over 951 fires that burned over 15,100 acres. The drought index continues to be above 700 in many parts of the state. It will take significant rain to saturate the ground enough to eliminate the increased chances of wildfire activity,” said Russell Bozeman, Mississippi Forestry Commission’s (MFC) State Forester.
“The burn ban will continue until we get significant rainfall, we will have to be out of the drought conditions,” said Kevin Kraft, Outreach Coordinator for the Mississippi Forestry Commission, Region 4.
Kraft estimates it would take three to four days of continuous rain totaling 12 to 15 inches to end the drought as of Monday.
With conditions so dry, Kraft said the combination of dropping humidity levels due to cooler weather add to the fire risk. He added that prescribed burns take those conditions into account. If the humidity level is 25 percent or less, the Mississippi Forestry Commission does not conduct prescribed burns.
The humidity level in the state on Monday morning was an average of 20 percent, Kraft said.
The smallest thing could start a woods fire at this point, including bush hogs hitting something metal and chains being dragged across the concrete or asphalt.
“It only takes one spark to start a wildfire in these conditions,” Kraft said.
Wildfires have already been occurring. Sunday, the Mississippi Forestry Commission issued a social media post showing a 100 plus acre woods fire in Amite County. Kraft said several agencies were working the fire and two types of helicopters helped pick up water from a nearby lake to aid in putting out the flames. The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time.
“We continue to station the Incident Management Team (IMT) in strategic parts of the state, along with out-of-state resources, to fight wildfires. In addition, the MFC is working with partners like the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), USDA Forest Service, Volunteer Fire Programs, and others to coordinate efforts,” Bozeman added.
Violations of the burn ban are enforced by each county’s Sheriff’s department. The fine for knowingly burning during a ban include a fine of not less than $100 but not more than $500. During a burn ban residents should avoid starting campfires, bonfires, using burn barrels, burning debris of any kind, and burning fields.
“Nine out of 10 fires are caused by humans. We want to make sure everyone is aware of the potential danger and take the necessary precautions to prevent wildfires. We encourage the public to visit our website at www.mfc.ms.gov to view the burn bans or visit us on social media to learn more,” Bozeman said.
The only kinds of fires allowed during a burn ban include propane and gas grills, charcoal grills and propane and gas heaters, according to section 49-19-351 of the Mississippi Code.
For a current list of counties under a burn ban and the exemptions for each of those counties, click here.