Forest Fire Risk Remains High

Another day without rain increases the danger of wildfires in South Mississippi.

And it's already been a very busy spring for the Mississippi Forestry Commission.

It hasn't reached the extreme level just yet, but without rain soon, it could get dangerous. Forestry fire crews responded to 157 wildfires in South Mississippi during the month of April. That's an increase of more than 20 percent from a year ago.

The Southeast District Forestry Commission office oversees nearly three million acres in 11 South Mississippi Counties.

This year's dry April meant a very busy month.

"It's a little bit more fire than what we've had. Typically March is out hottest time. And this year April we had 157 fires and March was only 104," said Randy Watkins with the Forestry Commission.

Computer programs track weather conditions across the Southeast. The office also relies on extensive maps. Along with wildfires, controlled burns must be located and logged.

A walk along the forest floor best illustrates the risk for wildfires. It makes a distinctive crunching sound.  And the dry conditions aren't limite to this area.

"It's not only in Mississippi. It's the other southeastern states as well. Hopefully in the future this will change, but for now we've got what we've got and we have to deal with it," said Andy Fillingame with the Forestry Commission.

While lack of rain is certainly the biggest thing causing tinderbox like conditions, another factor is the wind. Windy days in April helped spread the wildfires much faster.

A brisk wind helped fuel last week's forest fire in East Jackson County.

"I believe that day we reached a humidity of 25 percent as a low. And also we had some pretty good winds too. So, the weather is a big factor," Fillingame said.

Randy Watkins says the looks of the forest can be deceiving.

"And folks are thinking it's green out there. You see the green grass alongside the road. Down in the woods it's still pretty dry. It's burning hot."