Rainfall down by half; weekend rains help

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Despite getting much needed rainfall over the weekend and Monday, the previous lack of rainfall and windy conditions have created drier than average conditions and a potentially hazardous situation should fires get out of hand.

As reported last week, the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors instituted a 30-day ban on burning without the prior approval of the Mississippi Forestry Commission.

Mark Hamilton, District Forester for the fire district comprising six lower counties of the state including Pearl River, said Friday the last two weeks had been extremely busy for state and county crews.

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He estimated there had been approximately 65 fires in the district last week alone and that personnel had responded to at least three fires in Pearl River County last Friday.

Hamilton said Monday that 34 wildfires were reported in Pearl River County for March, affecting 589 acres. For the 6-county district he said there had been a total of 176 fires reported.

Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said there had been more than 100 fire calls of all types reported in the county. He said the increase in fires had been anticipated but said the fires were “a double-edged sword.” There had been a build-up in material that needed to be burned, he said, but dry conditions made burning the material more unsafe than normal.

“These fires have been running the volunteers to death,” Manley said Monday.

Manley said probably the worst problems have been caused by fires left untended, when people start a fire and then leave it thinking conditions are safe. He said if people decided to start a fire even if they have prior approval, they should alert the 911 dispatch or their volunteer personnel.

Manley said people need to be aware that even though the volunteer units respond to and assist in fighting brushfires, they are not funded for that purpose. The tax levies and fire rebates the volunteer units use as their major funding sources are mainly for providing structure fire protection in the county. He said wildfires and brushfires are actually the responsibility of the state forestry department.

Figures received from the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville reported that rainfall totals at that location were 1.80 inches for January and 2.56 inches for February for a combined total of 4.36 inches.

The 30-year average rainfall for January is 5.28 inches and 6.06 inches for February. That would put the rainfall deficit for the two months at 6.98 inches when placed against the 30-year average for the two months.

In January, the experiment station recorded no daily rainfall amounts of more than one inch, with the largest amount being eight-tenths of an inch on Jan. 4. In February, only one day received more than one inch, that being 1.12 inches on Feb. 14.

The rainfall recorded at the station over the weekend was 1.95 inches from Sunday morning and 2.42 inches for Monday morning’s reading.

David Smith, at the Natural Resource Conservation Service office in Poplarville, said Friday that pond levels in the county were definitely down. He estimates it would take two inches of slow steady rain to get levels back to where they should be.

He said the lack of rain could be affecting the absorption of fertilizers put out by farmers around the county but he had not yet received any complaints.

A Monday telephone interview with Eddie Smith, County Director for Hancock County, said the weekend rains were really helpful to area farmers in getting seeds started for spring plantings but that still rains will be needed in the next few weeks.