Firefighters ask for tips about illegal burning during statewide burn ban

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport firefighters are trying to figure out what caused a brush fire that charred a three acres near the Handsboro Community Center on Switzer Road Thursday. Friday, the firefighters were back on the scene to put out hot spots.

Because of the dry weather, we have been under a statewide burn ban for 17 days now. Fire officials say they're asking the community to be their eyes and ears in helping stop fires.

"Since the burn ban has been in effect, we're averaging somewhere between two and three calls a day for fires that are being burned illegally," said Harrison County Fire Marshal George Mixon.

Fire officials say many times they find out about illegal burns from law enforcement. However,  patrols can't be everywhere, so tips from neighbors are vital and can be anonymous.

"It's very important for the community, for their awareness, to take and call things in," said Mixon. "Because when they do, it's a small fire. We get to tell the people, 'There's a burn ban. Please put the fire out.'"

"If not, then it could become acres and acres. With the wind blowing and the dry conditions, then it could be causing property damage to other people."

Fire officials say although the statewide burn ban has been heavily publicized in the news, some people still aren't getting the message. That's why officials are turning to the public.

"Neighborhood Watch spread the news. The churches, we've asked them to mention to the people that there is still a burn ban," Mixon said. "Just because you might get a drop of two of rain doesn't mean the burn ban is going to be lifted. Because it's going to take some significant rain to get us back in a situation where we can be controlled or manageable for the people to burn. "

Firefighters say they're also seeing a growing problem with careless smokers causing fires by not properly disposing of their cigarette butts.

Harrison County Fire Marshal George Mixon said people who defy the burn ban could face a $500 fine from the county. If the fire spreads to a neighboring property, the person burning could also be liable for that damage.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.