3 min read
A prescribed fire moving through a landscape.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — After a prolonged drought in 2023, Alabama’s environment is extremely conducive to wildfire. It only takes a spark to ignite a life-threatening situation. With as little rain as the state has experienced, state officials are warning residents to stop burning entirely.

It Only Takes a Spark

Autumn’s arrival has brought cooler temperatures combined with low relative humidity levels. Conditions are extremely dry. Not only is your lawn crunching under your feet, but water bodies are also lower, and everything is more flammable.

“Since we’ve had little to no rain and extremely low humidity, it has 100% dried up the duff and forest litter layers,” said Drew Metzler, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System forestry and wildlife regional agent. “This means when fire latches onto a fuel, it is very difficult to put out and can spread very quickly. In these conditions, everything burns to bare mineral soil.”

The United States Drought Monitor (USDM) gathers and displays drought data in a map for people to observe. This monitor is a joint database of the National Drought Mitigation Center, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Nov. 9 USDM update reveals that more than 99% of Alabama is experiencing drought. It also estimates that approximately 4,644,103 Alabamians reside in a drought environment.

This sustained lack of moisture sucks any resistance to fire out of forest floors and grassy areas.

During daytime hours, humidity levels naturally decrease. Combined with heat from the sun and sporadic winds, this makes for a flammable recipe for fuels (any material capable of catching fire). Nighttime hours usually bring moist air, regulating the cycle. However, after approximately two months of drought, natural cycles are not enough to control the beast that is fire.

Governor’s Orders

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has signed a Drought Emergency Declaration for the state. This order prohibits all outdoor burning — regardless of acreage. Facilitated through the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC), this no burn order order applies to every resident.

“State Forester Rick Oates and his team have been working around-the-clock to keep our forests safe and fires contained, and I commend them for their efforts to protect Alabamians, our homes and our wildlife,” Ivey said. “This declaration is meant to prevent unnecessary burning, reducing the chance of avoidable fires. I urge Alabamians to heed this warning.”

According to the AFC, since a statewide fire alert was issued Oct. 24, their wildland firefighters have responded to 352 wildfires. These blazes have burned approximately 3,200 acres across Alabama.

Oates said even though Alabama is predicted to get a small amount of rain this weekend, it will not be enough to lessen the wildfire danger.

“These burning restrictions are a necessary result of the ongoing lack of precipitation and high probability of fuel ignition,” Oates said. “During the last month, we’ve seen an increase not only in the number of wildfires but also in the size of those fires. With this prolonged drought, conditions are such that any outdoor fire can rapidly spread out of control, taking longer – and more firefighting resources – to contain and ultimately control.”

The Drought Emergency Declaration remains in effect until it is rescinded by the state forester. The AFC encourages everyone to report persons in violation of this law to their local law enforcement.

It Takes Everyone

Simply put, fire is dangerous, especially when placed in an environment as dry as Alabama’s. Metzler urges everyone to spread the word, not fire.

“Getting through this period will take all of us,” Metzler said. “Please hold off on burning until there is a confirmed lifting of the no burn order.”

Alabama Extension supports the Alabama governor’s office, as well as partner organizations like the AFC, to ensure that all Alabamians are properly informed and remain safe. To report a wildfire, call 1-800-392-5679.