Forestry Commission: Drought is feeding Alabama wildfires


ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Coleen Vansant has been with the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) for 30 years. She says conditions right now are as bad as she has seen them.

“You know it’s dry when a bush hog hitting a rock will start a fire,” said Vansant.

In the past month, the commission has brought more than 650 wildfires under control, but almost half of those occurred within the last seven days.

“Right now we’re looking at anywhere from an 80 to 90 percent chance that a fire will occur from just a spark hitting the ground,” said Derrick Heckman. He’s an incident commander with the Alabama Forestry Commission. This year, he’s seen more wildfires than usual because of a particularly dry fire season.

“Once the wind hits one, if the fire department doesn’t get to it quickly, it turns into a woods fire,” added Heckman.

Yesterday, the state was put under a Fire Warning by the AFC. That means unless you have a permit, you shouldn’t be burning anything. The warning also limits the number of permits issued.

“If we can cut down on the number of preventable fires – the debris fires – then we’re hoping that we can get a handle on it and just have to worry about the power line fires and the arson fires and equipment use and things like that,” said Vansant.

If you do find yourself in trouble with a fire getting out of hand, Vansant says don’t try to fight the fire yourself. The majority of injuries and deaths they see happen because someone tried to fight the fire on their own.

“Call 911, the local fire department will respond and then they’ll call us,” she said. “There’s not a brush pile or garbage pile out there or pile of whatever people burn, it’s not worth it. Not only could it threaten your home but it could threaten someone else’s and you’re responsible for wherever that fire goes and what it does.”

The AFC believes the wildfire in St. Clair County was started by an arsonist. Heckman said they’ve responded to several fires in the area and he hopes the firebug is caught soon.

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