State and local fire officials are asking communities yet again to remember that in spite of the cold weather, Mississippi is still under a severe drought, and therefore, an almost-statewide burn ban.
Around the state, however, people keep lighting up trash piles and starting bonfires in spite of almost incessant repeated warnings from officials.
Some people are not aware of the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, but officials are watching it closely. According to drought.gov, it’s based on a daily water balance. The drought factor is balanced with precipitation and soil moisture and is measured in hundredths of an inch of soil moisture depletion. The index is based on a maximum storage capacity of eight assumed inches.
The KBDI currently hovers near its historical maximum, indicating the persistent risks associated with underlying drought, remaining above the 97th percentile. Officials say the KBDI index values are into the 700s right now for most of the southern half of the state, in a line from Attala County west. The index only goes to 800.
Breaking that down, it means at least seven inches of continuous rain are needed to soak the ground.
“With these dry conditions and no humidity, outdoor burning is strongly discouraged, and it’s unlawful,” said Warren County EOC Director John Elfer. “It’s in everyone’s best interest that the ban remains in place to prevent overland fires that can cause injury, death, and property damage.”
October is typically, and has been in 2023, one of the driest months of the year. Because of the extreme drought conditions in August, the state experienced an earlier and heightened season of erratic wildfire activity. Since August 1st, the MFC has responded to over 1,030 fires, which burned over 16,000 acres. MFC wildland firefighters and their partners have protected approximately 1,885 structures from wildfires.
Some recent rainfall has provided some relief by reducing the presence of critically dry fuels across the Lower Mississippi Valley. Consequently, fire danger indices have improved. However, a concerning trend is emerging following a dry frontal passage, which poses a renewed risk of reburn and potentially challenging-to-contain wildfires in central and southern Mississippi.
While there are indications that El Niño may bring more rainfall at some point, it is important to acknowledge that the damage caused by the drought and the underlying dryness will persist until then. The impact of the drought is evident across the state, with reports of pine mortality in central and southwest Mississippi extending into Louisiana.
Experts describe the drought’s effects as the most severe in at least a generation.
“Pervasive dryness throughout the Mississippi River Basin has resulted in low water levels, allowing wildfires to encroach upon hardwood river bottoms in parts of Mississippi,” MFC Fire Chief Randy Giachelli said. “Additionally, our deciduous trees are shedding leaves early due to the drought. However, the area at most risk continues to be pine forests and the underlying southern rough.”
Critical fire weather conditions can arise for many reasons, including dry cold fronts followed by windy and dry conditions, strong high pressure over the northern U.S. combined with low pressure south of the advisory area, subsidence adjacent to tropical cyclones, sea breeze fronts, and erratic winds associated with outflow from nearby thunderstorms.
“Please remember that 9 of 10 wildfires are human-caused. The slightest spark can cause a wildfire. Even small things like throwing cigarette butts out of a car, dragging chains, or other towing mechanisms down the street behind a vehicle can cause a fire. If you start a fire, you can be held accountable or fined for damages,” Giachelli said.
To stay informed about burn bans and obtain valuable tips for wildfire prevention, please visit the Mississippi Forestry Commission’s website at mfc.ms.gov.
What is Not Allowed During a Burn Ban
Anything with an open flame that produces an ember is not allowed during a burn ban. The wind can carry floating embers away from the original fire and start a spot fire up to one-half mile away from the burning area. This includes:
- Fire pits
- Fire rings
- Burn barrels
- Debris burning
- Field burning
What is Allowed During a Burn Ban
- Propane/Gas grills
- Propane/Gas heaters
- Charcoal grills