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MISSISSIPPI FACES WILDFIRE THREATS

by: Linda Breazeale
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi may not be far behind the Georgia and Florida wildfires if people are not careful during hot, dry conditions.

Charles Burkhardt manages Mississippi State University's timberlands located throughout the state.

“We are concerned about the potential for wildfires in Mississippi. It's happened before,” Burkhardt said. “The conditions in the South are very different from those that cause wildfires in the West. We are not as remote like those thousands of acres without someone living close by. It's also very rare that lightening starts a fire around here.”

Burkhardt said university managers intentionally burn lands with age-appropriate trees to reduce fuel on the ground in the event of an accidental fire.

“We want to burn the land off when we can choose the conditions. Wildfires generally happen on the worst days -- low humidity, hot temperatures and high winds,” Burkhardt said. “No one expects their fire to get out of control, but about 80 percent of the fires in the South in recent weeks have been accidental.”

Andy Londo, associate Extension professor with MSU, teaches a course in prescribed burning, which is a method of reducing fuel (debris) and improving wildlife habitat. Before lighting any fires, Londo said people should check with the Mississippi Forestry Commission about burn bans and contact district offices for permits.

“Obtaining a permit helps the forestry commission know where fires are and reduces the response time if one gets out of control,” Londo said. “The most important thing is never to let the fire get away from you.”

He said some of the biggest mistakes people make are burning in the wrong conditions (too dry, too windy), burning too large of a fire for the available resources, leaving a fire unsupervised, and becoming dehydrated and exhausted.

Londo also said people need to watch the conditions for smoke.

“Wherever the smoke goes, it's your responsibility -- your neighbor's land, the highway, and so on,” he said.

Kent Grizzard, information manager for the Mississippi Forestry Commission, said residents need to protect their homes before the threat of a wildfire arrives.

“The first step to protecting a home from a wildfire is to mow the lawn regularly. Cut tall grass, prune branches and remove dense underbrush,” he said. “Store mulch, firewood and lumber at least 100 feet from the house. Clear roofs of leaves, pine straw and other debris.”

Grizzard encouraged landowners to remove “ladder fuels,” the vegetation that links grass to tree tops. Keep firefighting supplies, such as shovels, rakes and water supplies, handy.

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