Jul 06 2007

Chilton continues in no burn order

Clanton Advertiser

By Brent Maze

Chilton County received 1 to 2 inches of rainfall over the last week, but it was not enough to significantly affect the current drought emergency status.

Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor placed most of the county and almost 44 percent of the state in an exceptional drought, the highest drought level issued by the organization. Consequently, the Alabama Forestry Commission has decided not to lift the no-burn order for Chilton County and 39 other counties in the exceptional drought.

Officials with the Alabama Forestry Commission said it would take continuous storms over several days, dropping many inches of rain, before the threat of wildfire is relieved.

Under a no-burn order, any type of outdoor burning is prohibited.

The counties under the order in addition to Chilton are: Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Chambers, Cherokee, Choctaw, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Coosa, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Franklin, Madison, Marengo, Marshall, Marion, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Randolph, Shelby, St. Clair, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker and Winston.

The entire Alabama delegation has contacted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns to request emergency assistance for the entire state for disaster assistance because of the drought situation.

This request follows two previous requests by Sen. Richard Shelby for a disaster declaration for the state from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Preliminary production shows that due to the drought conditions, Alabama's agriculture community has lost approximately 75 percent of the corn crop, 30 percent to 50 percent of the cotton crop, and 50 percent of the peanut crop. Additionally, Alabama's forestry sector is reporting a 60 to 90-percent loss in pine seedlings, at a cost of $30 million to the industry.

"North and central Alabama are experiencing the worst drought in over 100 years," said Shelby. "The need for emergency aid is dire and the need for assistance is real."

The remaining 37 counties continue with a fire alert status, where permits for outdoor burning are issued only on a restricted basis.

Under the regulations the no burn order, it prohibits any prescribed burns, campfires or bonfires, any trash or debris fires and any other open burning. Anyone who is found guilty of violating these regulations could face a fine of $250 to $500 and could face up to six months in jail.

Here are some guidelines put forth for the drought emergency by the Alabama Forestry Commission:

The regulations allow barbecue fires for cooking if the fire is in a grill or masonry barbecue pit, including large barbecue pits used by civic organizations to prepare food. Anyone grilling or barbecuing should have water hoses onsite to prevent any loose sparks from setting a wildfire. A circle at least 10 feet wide should be cleared on burnable material. Side fires to generate coals for the barbecue must also be within a grill or masonry pit. Gas grills are allowed.

Campfires or bonfires, which include any fires that is burned on bare ground even if it is surrounded by stones or in open dirt pits, are illegal. This includes campfires, ceremonial fires, "council" fires, bonfires, "warming" fires and cooking fires that are on bare ground and not in a masonry lined pit.

Trash and debris fires, which are defined as burning of woody debris, yard waste, garbage, construction debris or any other material in either an open pit or in a barrel, have also been prohibited. At this time, people should leave the debris pile unburned until the Drought Emergency is lifted. Any large piles need to have an Alabama Forestry Commission Burn Permit prior to ignition. Currently, no permits are being issued.

To prevent the kind of catastrophic that occurred in Georgia and Florida, no one should have open flames in a woodland setting. At campsites, only closed lanterns may be used, not open flames like candles and "TiKi" torches. Care should also be taken in suburban areas where lawns are also very dry.

Fireworks are being restricted. Organized municipal or organizational sponsored fireworks displays should have a permit from both the Alabama State Fire Marshal and the Alabama Forestry Commission. The discharge of fireworks within 600 feet of any enclosed building is prohibited. The drought emergency further restricts any type of skyrockets with sticks or any rockets or missiles with fins or rudders, or to burn trash or other material that may cause a forest, grass or woods fire until the declaration is lifted.