Fog brings down smoke from buffer zone fire

Published 2:20 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Mississippi River may be flooding on the west side of the state and to the south around New Orleans, but the woods are burning in Pearl River County.

An area of at least 150 acres off of Ridge Road going into the Stennis Space Center Buffer zone had burned by late Saturday, said Nicholson Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bobby Robbins. That fire is still burning and will burn until either the some rain falls on it or it hits a creek or a road, Robins said Monday morning.

The smoke from the fire was particularly noticeable Monday morning when it combined with fog and began irritating residents’ noses and lungs as they went out of doors to climb into their cars to go to work.

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“It may burn all the way to Texas Flat Road before it stops,” Robbins said. “The (Mississippi) Forestry Service has plowed around it two or three times and it keeps jumping the line.

“It’s one of those you can’t do much about. It’s like one of those California fires — it burns until it burns out,” he said.

People with respiratory problems need to “limit their outside exposure,” said Highland CEO Mark Stockstill. Stockstill also is a registered nurse.

He said that fires this time of year can be particularly hard on people with respiratory problems because the air is also filled with pollen and mold spores that already are affecting those allergic to them.

“We tell people to stay indoors as much as possible. They also need to use their air conditioners. That won’t filter out everything, but it will help,” Stockstill said.

He recommends HEPA filters for those with severe respiratory problems.

Robbins said his department has been called out to the Ridge Road fire six or seven times since it was first reported on Thursday.

“We’re called out to protect houses, when it gets close to them,” he said.

So far the department has prevented the fire from consuming two or three houses, including those of Satch Frierson and Reed Frierson, Robbins said.

County Fire Marshal Albert Lee said the county doesn’t have a burn ban in place at this time, even though the woods are unusually dry for this time of year.

“We can’t do much until the Forestry Service calls or e-mails us and asks us to go to the Board of Supervisors,” Lee said, after acknowledging that the county is unusually dry at this time.

Lee said he expects the fire to consume 300 acres or more before burning out. The fire off Ridge Road is largest one reported so far, though he was called out to one last week near the McNeill exit off Interstate 10.

The cause of the Ridge Road fire is unknown at this point, he said.

“I don’t know if some (turkey) hunters were in there or what. I did receive a call that it looks like some one was cutting some metal off something in there. I’m going to go out and take a look later (Monday),” Lee said.

He said he also was investigating a couple of recent structure fires in the county, one that burned an abandoned house in the north end of the county on Nell Dedeaux Road and another that occurred Sunday at 2507 Jackson Landing Rd.

Lee and County Emergency Management Coordinator Danny Manley have said before that county residents need to take care when burning trash because untended fires can get away and cause damage. In such cases, any damage caused is the liability of the person who caused the fire, Manley said.

The southern part of the county has been without significant rain since the early March, with less than an inch falling in April, according to rainfall records kept by the Picayune Item. The county as a whole was more than five inches below normal for the year though the end of March, according to records at the Mississippi State University experiment station in McNeill. Its records show about 1.37 inches fell at its measuring station in the county in April. The woods were further dried out by a couple of days of sustained winds of about 30 miles per hour.

As of Monday morning, the U.S. Weather Service forecasts don’t show a chance for rain before Thursday, when there is only a 20 percent chance forecast.