By Alyssa Schnugg
Historically, March has one of the highest wildfire occurrence rates of the year due to the transition from winter to spring, dry vegetation, and windy conditions.
Last week, the Mississippi Forestry Commission announced that Gov. Tate Reeves proclaimed March as “Wildfire Prevention Month,” in Mississippi.
Wildfire Prevention Month highlights the responsibility of Mississippians to help protect forests, their homes, and, ultimately, their lives by focusing on how to prevent wildfires.
Mississippi has had an early start to the wildfire season this year. Deficient rainfall plays a vital role in the severity of a fire season, and most of the state has had long intervals of below-average rainfall. A Red Flag Warning was issued for Mississippi in February when low relative humidity and high winds combined to produce an increased risk of fire danger.
According to Capt. Beau Moore with the Lafayette County Fire Department, firefighters have responded to four grass and brush fires since March 1.
In February, they responded to 14 grass and brush fires. In 2021, the department responded to a total of 1,524 calls that included 14 forest, woods or wildland fires and 48 grass/brush fires.
Moore suggests that anyone planning to burn vegetation should check weather conditions first.
“Don’t burn when it’s windy or when vegetation is very dry,” Moore said. “Choose a safe burning site away from powerlines, overhanging limbs, buildings, vehicles, and equipment.”
Moore said those planning to burn brush need at least three times the height of the pile of vertical clearance. The site should be surrounded by gravel or mineral soil at least 10 feet in all directions. Keep the surroundings watered down during the burn and have a shovel close by. If using a burn barrel, make sure it’s made entirely of metal, properly equipped (at least three evenly-spaced, 3-inch, screened vents and metal top screen) and in good condition.
“Always stay with your fire until it is completely out,” he said. “Drown the fire with water, turn over the ashes with a shovel and drown it again. Repeat several times.”
In Mississippi, the MFC Wildland Firefighters suppressed and contained 87 wildfires that burned over 4,600 acres on Feb. 15, the most wildfires in a single day since 2019. In February, Mississippi had 440 wildfires that burned 15,640 acres. MFC Wildland Firefighters saved 265 houses, commercial buildings, and other structures. Wildfires damaged or destroyed four homes and 18 structures.
“Few fires in Mississippi are ignited by lightning or natural causes,” said Russell Bozeman, MFC state forester. “Most are started by accidental activities by people. The leading cause of wildfires in our state is escaped debris burns, therefore with proper care, these fires could have been prevented.”
To help prevent wildfires, the MFC offers these tips:
• Check for local or statewide burn bans.
• Check the local weather forecast. Do not burn on dry, windy days.
• Choose a safe burn site, away from flammable materials, and surround the ground around your burn site with bare dirt or gravel.
• Only burn untreated wood debris. Plastic, rubber tires, or other manufactured materials may not be burned.
• Always have a water source close by.
• Never leave a fire unattended.
For more wildfire prevention information, visit mfc.ms.gov.