Rains help dampen wildland fire risk

Published 12:22 pm Saturday, February 19, 2022

By Skip Rigney

Rain across Mississippi on Thursday has lessened the risk of wildland fires after a busy week for firefighters.

Coverage in the Picayune Item this past Monday detailed the efforts of local volunteer firefighters who worked ten brush fires in Pearl River County last weekend.

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Wednesday the Mississippi Forestry Commission reported that they had responded to 88 wildland fires across the state during the preceding 24 hours.

Dry and windy conditions along with late-winter leaf litter and dormant grass are key ingredients for an innocent-looking small burn pile to suddenly set the adjacent woods or fields on fire.

Before Thursday’s showers, just a few hundredths of an inch of rain had fallen during the previous 10 days in scattered locations across Mississippi. Over two-thirds of the state had received no rainfall at all during that period.

Winds across much of Mississippi, including here in Pearl River County, gusted to over 20 miles per hour each day this past week except Monday.

Those conditions, along with low humidity on Tuesday and Wednesday, led the National Weather Service (NWS) to issue a Red Flag Warning, indicating an increased risk of fire danger, and the Mississippi Forestry Commission issued a statewide Wildland Fire Alert.

Showers and thunderstorms, some of them severe, spread across the state Wednesday night, Thursday, and Thursday night, ahead of a cold front. It rained everywhere in Mississippi, but there were large variations. Some areas in the Delta received less than one-quarter inch, while over three inches fell in locations east of Starkville.

In Pearl River County, rainfall accumulations were generally from one-half to one inch. Scattered locations received between one and two inches.

The heavier amounts were mostly east of I-59 and in the northwest corner of the county. Those estimates were calculated by the NWS based on data from their radar in Slidell.

Although no rain is expected this weekend, the upcoming work week looks unsettled. Most of each day will probably be dry, but there’s a chance of scattered showers or thunderstorms from Sunday night right through Thursday.

The showers are expected to be generally light. The NWS predicts that rain totals for the entire week in Pearl River County will be between one-quarter and one inch.

Even though rainier and more humid conditions will decrease outdoor fire risk, winds are still expected to be breezy, and fire can quickly spread to surrounding dormant grass and dead leaves.

If you do burn, don’t leave the fire unattended, even for “just a few minutes.” And, keep a charged water hose and a shovel or rake at hand.

Noteworthy during the upcoming work week, especially after the slightly colder-than-average January and first half of February we have had, will be the warm temperatures. We could experience our first 80 degree reading of early spring in Pearl River County on Tuesday or Wednesday.

That wouldn’t be surprising, since, based on historical weather records, our area has about a 50 percent chance of having the first 80-degree day of the year by the last week of February or the first week of March.