The Alabama Forestry Commission asked the public Monday to avoid starting fires amid the state’s increasingly dry conditions.

The commission issued a fire danger advisory, warning people throughout the state to delay burning debris and use safety precautions if they must burn.

Commission spokeswoman Elishia Ballentine said the advisory bars no one from burning anything on their property. It just encourages them to wait until conditions improve, she said.

“We’re just trying to get people’s attention so they can wait until we get some rain,” Ballentine said.

Talladega National Forest manager Blake Morris, with the U.S. Forest Service, said it’s been 21 days since the forest has seen a quarter-inch of rain.

Meteorologist Jason Davis, who works at the National Weather Service office in Calera, said September and October are typically Alabama’s driest months of the year, and this year has been especially dry. In years past, Ballentine said, the driest time of year was in October and November.

“It seems like it’s starting a little earlier than in the past,” Ballentine said.

According to Davis, parts of Calhoun, Cleburne, St. Clair and Talladega counties are considered to be abnormally dry. Davis said parts of southern Cleburne County are in a drought.

According to the Forestry Commission’s Website, there have been 24 wildfires within the past month in Calhoun, Cleburne, St. Clair and Talladega counties. 

Ballentine said one of the fires was reported Monday morning near Alabama 21 and Ben Moses Lane in Alpine, and Forestry Commission firefighters were fighting it that afternoon. Ballentine said the fire is estimated to have covered 150 acres.

Anniston fire Chief Chris Collins said there have been six small grass or brush fires reported in September to Anniston firefighters. Collins said each of the fires was put out by a crew of about three, which he said was the minimum number required to ride on a fire truck.

Collins said Monday the Fire Department plans to issue fewer burn permits after receiving word of the advisory.

“Really, if it’s a danger, we tend to not, just because of the dry conditions,” Collins said. “We’re going to look at the wind conditions and what they’re trying to burn.”

Ballentine said burn permits are required for anyone planning to burn more than a quarter of an acre, and permits can be obtained for free from the Alabama Forestry Commission.

Even with a burn permit, Ballentine said, a person is still responsible if their fire gets out of control.

“It might not just burn your stuff,” Ballentine said. “It could burn your neighbors’.”

Morris said the U.S. Forest Service performed prescribed burns between January and May in the forest to get rid of small leaves, pine straw and sticks, eliminating potential fuel for wildfires.

So far, Morris said, he has seen five or six small wildfires in the forest this year. By the end of each year, Morris said, he typically sees between 15 and 20.

While the number of wildfires by this time of year has decreased in 2019, Morris said, he still anticipates more due to the dry conditions. 

According to Morris, the majority of the wildfires in the forest are man-made. He urged everyone who visits to ensure their campfires are properly extinguished and call for help if they see a wildfire or smoke.

Contact Staff Writer Mia Kortright at 256-235-3563.

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