Even though fall fire season is technically coming to a close, a statewide drought and windy conditions have caused warnings of caution to persist in Sampson and other counties still experiencing dry conditions.
Sampson County forest ranger Grant Jones said the fall fire season was actually heavier this year than it has been in the past, however the total fires in Sampson this year number just 47, on the low end for the county. Similarly, the acreage burned throughout the state in 2012 has been the least in recent memory, despite the recent drought. Through Dec. 20, there have been 3,266 wildfires burning over 11,285 acres in North Carolina.
According to the N.C. Forest Service, the 10-year average (2002 to 2011) is 4,620 fires over 28,944 acres. Last year, there were 5,265 fires burning over 63,547 acres and in 2010, there were 4,053 fires burning over 14,703 acres. In 2009, 3,292 fires burned 12,328 acres. That 2009 total was the least amount of acreage in more than 80 years, with statistics dating back to 1928, according to N.C. Forest Service statistics.
This year could be even less than that.
The number of total fires in Sampson reflect that trend, however the bulk of the 47 fires have come late in the year, Jones said.
Fall wildfire season typically lasts from mid-October until mid-December. Sampson has fires in the fall and into winter, but it usually is a small percentage compared to those in the spring fire season when looking at annual totals. Typically, Sampson’s fall fire season has not brought that much in terms of wildfires, with spring proving to be the busy season, when relative humidity drops very low and winds are very strong.
This year has seen a change.
“We actually had more fall fires this year than in years past,” said Jones. “I don’t know if it’s climate change or what. We do still have the drought.”
At the end of last month, the N.C. Forest Service urged residents to be safe and avoid burning yard waste and other debris until the state gets some significant rain. According to state officials, a lack of significant rainfall in recent months has resulted in below normal ground water levels and stream flows and less water than needed to replenish reservoirs in parts of North Carolina.
While some rain has fallen over Sampson and other areas of the state in recent days, drought conditions due to below normal rainfall has only slightly improved and still persist.
With debris burning the number one cause of wildfires in North Carolina, the state released warnings in recent weeks cautioning individuals who determine that burning debris is a necessity to contact their county forest ranger. There are currently no burn bans, but forestry officials have urged residents to be careful.
Residents should first make sure they have a valid burning permit, which can be obtained at any N.C. Forest Service office or authorized permitting agent, or online at http://ncforestservice.gov.
Some burning tips include checking the weather, not burning on dry, windy days and burning natural vegetation only. Some yard debris, such as leaves and grass, may be more valuable if composted, officials said. Likewise, those burning should be prepared by having a shovel or hoe to clear a perimeter around the burn area. For fire control, a hose, bucket, steel rake and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire will be needed.
Those burning should never use flammable liquids such as kerosene, gasoline or diesel fuel to speed up the process, and should stay with the fire until it is completely out.
“Protect our natural resources by acting safely; don’t burn on dry, windy days, and maintain a careful watch over a fire until it is extinguished,” stated Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
The importance of fire safety is even greater in the case of drought conditions.
Earlier this month, severe drought returned to North Carolina for the first time since February. Should dry conditions persist, state officials said widespread impacts could quickly surface in 2013 when temperatures begin to increase and the growing season begins.
Last week’s federal drought map moved eight counties in southwestern North Carolina into a severe drought, the second worst ranking in the system used to measure drought, just below extreme. Another 57 North Carolina counties are experiencing moderate drought, including Sampson.
Additionally, 16 counties are abnormally dry, which means drought in those areas could reemerge without adequate rainfall. The drought map can be seen at www.ncdrought.org.
Locally, Jones said the Forest Service in Sampson will remain vigilant in its wildfire prevention procedures in hopes that a busy fall fire season does not extend into the winter.
“Even though it’s rained, it’s not going to last,” said Jones. “The state is still in a drought status. I just worry about our county. We’re gearing up for it.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.